Counsels of the Wise King

CHR. RIDLEY PEARSON, M.A., VICAR OF ST. JAMES’S, TONBRIDGE WELLS

Pearson, C. R. (1880). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 1, p. iii). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)

The object of this work is to utilize the Proverbs of Solomon. Every reader of that sacred Book acknowledges its beauty and value as a storehouse of heavenly wisdom. It is probably perused by most of us in the course of our private devotional reading. Portions of it are read in our ears in church at certain seasons of the year. But, as with all the sacred Books, so specially with this one, the mere reading or hearing of it does not suffice for profit. It consists of a collection of pithy and pregnant sayings, each one demanding separate thought and application. These, following closely upon one another, in no exact order, and with diverse meanings, are apt to produce confusion of ideas, and to leave behind them an impression far too indefinite to be practical. Everyone must have felt this after having had a string of the Proverbs presented in succession to his mind. Hence, from the Book which ought to be a guide for life in all its various aspects and experiences, we fail to a great extent to extract the lessons it contains for us, and miss the good intended. And so, while we acknowledge its excellence, it becomes to us too much like the sparkling waters of a fountain, which plays into its basin to admiration, pleasing the ear but not nurturing life.

It would be far otherwise were each of these wise sayings considered by itself, with special application to individual circumstances, and above all, with special prayer. Then, how often would one and another prove “a word spoken in season”! How often, by following the advice given, would the reader be saved from a false step! How much would the beauty and utility of the whole work shine out and be recognized in so appropriate a setting, even as “apples of gold” show to best advantage in “pictures” or fretwork “of silver”!

For the assistance of those who desire to guide their steps by the light of God’s Holy Word through the intricate paths of life, this volume is designed. It offers an inspired aphorism for each day’s meditation, with a few words of practical exposition and illustration attached, the whole being generally summed up in a brief aspiration, or prayer. For special holy days and seasons appropriate subjects of thought are selected. Hence the Biblical order of the texts is not invariably followed. In each week’s series lessons relating to God, our neighbor, and ourselves, will be found comprised. An index directs the inquirer who would know God’s mind upon duties, problems, and temptations, which appertain to every-day life, so that he may lay his finger at once on the advice he needs.

The titles of the daily portions as given in the index, where not in the very words of the inspired saying itself, are so worded as to furnish a possible addition to our current proverbs, which may not be without its influence for good.

It need hardly be added that while the Book of Proverbs is the rock from which this Vade Mecum is hewn, the whole counsel of God, as made known in His Sacred Oracles, is appealed to, and Old Testament teaching illuminated by the Gospel of Christ.

The book is primarily intended to be used in private devotion, and it is hoped may be found specially helpful from its brevity and conciseness to those whose business engagements are pressing. But it is not less adapted for reading at family worship, by the substitution (as arranged) of other portions in place of those few which might not be deemed suitable; and it may also be found useful for sermon notes or for Bible classes.

Such as it is, the author presents his work, a humble contribution to the efforts increasingly made in these days for the promotion of personal holiness, as an offering to that Church in whose service the best part of his life has (however unworthily) been spent.

November, 1880.

January

F. Circumcision (New Year’s Day)

Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long.”—23:17.

Interpretation.—A contrast is here set forth. “Let not thine heart press on eagerly after sinners, but after the fear of Jehovah all the day.” True religion is put before us as the thing to be earnestly desired and aimed at, far more than the things in which the ungodly boast and delight themselves.

Illustrations.—All good men have made this choice. Moses, with the riches of Egypt before him, preferred to be among the afflicted people of God. Joshua and Caleb alone, among the thousands of Israel, “wholly followed the Lord.” Nehemiah refused to exact all his rights as former governors had done, “because of the fear of God.” These, too, were all men of prayer. They loved the courts of the Lord’s house. They loved to lift up their hearts in secret supplication. Joshua is found lingering in the Tabernacle. Nehemiah darts up petitions to heaven continually. Their religion was not a thing only for certain times and places. They strove after the fear of Jehovah all the day. Joseph, suddenly tempted, is found living in this fear. Hezekiah, suddenly terrified, spreads the matter before the Lord. On the other hand, David, though usually prayerful, being found off his guard, becomes a warning to others of the danger of forgetting God at any time of the day. St. Peter, sleeping when he ought to have watched, and then denying when he should have confessed his Lord, is another “ensample written for our admonition.”

Application.—Life is for God. As our Creator He claims it. As our Redeemer we owe it to Him. “We are not our own, but bought with a price.” They who live in sin “all the day long,” ignore the claims of God. Shall I envy them the short-lived pleasures of sin, and not rather dread for them the issue of their fatal choice? If I cleave to God and to His ways, will not my lot be the really enviable one? How else can life be ennobled? Or what greater sweetness can be extracted from it? Let me, then, begin this new year by giving my life, already dedicated to Him at the font, anew to God. Jesus, by submitting to circumcision, set me this example. Truly He was sinless, and had nothing evil to give up. For our sakes alone was He circumcised, that we might become humble and pure and obedient to the law of God. But in giving my life to God there is much of evil to be given up year by year; yes, and day by day. Therefore—

O God, enable me to make the wise choice, and grant me the true circumcision of the Spirit, that I may live in Thy fear all my life long, for Christ’s sake!

January 2nd

Boast not thyself of to-morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.”—27:1.

Interpretation.—One boasts of to-morrow when he boasts of that which he will then do or experience. Or when he plans confidently for the future, and lays it out as though assured him. What St. James reproves is here meant (4:13). But we know not what a day bringeth forth, what it will disclose (Zeph. 2:2); and how, then, can we order anything beforehand respecting it? We ought not, with proud assurance, to throw out high-soaring schemes for the future. We ought not to boast of future undertakings as though they were in our own power.

Illustrations.—Before the Flood came, even while it was threatened, the inhabitants of the earth lived in this foolhardy security. So our Lord teaches (Matt. 24:38); and in the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:20) He has warned us against such folly. To only one man has the morrow ever been guaranteed: to Hezekiah for fifteen years to come. But would be have sought such a boon had he foreseen that within those years a son so wicked, such a scourge to the nation, would be born to him?

Application.—To look forward is at once an instinct and a duty. But we must do so in humble faith, for both reason and experience teach us that we cannot see so much as a day in advance. “Boasting” about the future “is” therefore obviously “excluded.” It is alike irrational and irreligious. It may provoke God to laugh us to scorn. It may be followed, and that speedily, by some judgment. And yet each day should be lived as though there were a future in store for us even upon earth. The young must hive knowledge and form good habits with a view to life’s duties. The father must scheme for his children how he may nourish them, and bring them up, and get them out in the world. But all this in a spirit of modest reliance upon God. Above all, how needful to exercise this wise forethought with a view to eternity! That endless morrow will in very truth succeed to life’s brief day. What will it bring forth to me? Who dares boast that he is fully prepared for whatever it may bring forth? That morrow which will see the righteous “scarcely saved,” with what humble hopefulness will the best Christian look forward to it!

May I be wise in time to prepare “to-day, while it is called to-day,” for eternity! O God, enable me to live each day as though it were to be my last, and giving it to Thee, to whom to-day and to-morrow belong!

January 3rd

My son, forget not My law; but let thine heart keep My commandments: for length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.”—3:1, 2 (9:11; 10:27).

Interpretation.—“Length of days” may refer to the duration of this existence, and “long life” to the immortality of the life to come. The observance of God’s commandments is the only security for life whether temporal or eternal, since “man liveth not by bread alone,” but of him is true what Jesus, the typical man, said of Himself, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me.” A corresponding proverb (10:27) expresses the same thought more completely, “The fear of Jehovah multiplies the days of life: but the years of the godless are shortened.” “Peace” is more than quietness—it is general prosperity and safety. “Life” must be understood in its highest sense, as in the saying, “Live while you live.” The whole is summed up in these words of an Apostle, “Godliness hath the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).

Illustrations.—God’s ancient people were encouraged to keep His commandments by the promise of longevity—a promise which has descended to us in the third commandment. That virtuous and peaceable men live longer than others, as a rule, is provable by the number of untimely deaths through vice, quarrelling, and self-indulgence. Instances of this in Holy Scripture are Nabal, Elah, Benhadad, Belshazzar, probably Nadab and Abihu, and Absalom. Life assurance societies prove, by their statistics and ratio of assurance, the destructive effects of intemperance.

Application.—It is true that religion and long life are not inseparably connected. They would be had religion (as at the first) a clear ground and fair play. But, as it is, many other laws and agencies, such, e.g. as hereditary disease, are at work which tend to produce death. Moreover, goodness itself, through the depravity of human nature, has not seldom attracted the death-blow. Nevertheless, as a general axiom, health and longevity are intimately connected with a high-toned morality early acquired, and this is the invariable fruit of giving the heart to God. So that among the inducements to personal religion this may well be one. But of life in its highest sense, as containing the quintessence of real enjoyment through union of the soul with God, these promises hold good without any qualification. “He only lives who lives to God.” Be life cut off, the verification of the promise only moves forward into eternity. So, when I have chosen God I have chosen life,—length of days upon earth it may be, certainly peace and happiness, a relish and zest of life no other choice can give; and beyond, a bright immortality.

January 4th

Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to-morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee.”—3:27, 28.

Interpretation.—The “good” spoken of may be “due” either by the law of equity or of charity—whether upon desert or need. The LXX. adds, “for thou knowest not what the morrow shall bring forth.”

Illustrations.—The Ammonites and Moabites were excluded the Sanctuary because they met not Israel with bread and water (Deut. 23:3, 4). For the neglect of a debt of charity, the priest and scribe in our Lord’s parable are held up to censure. In the parable of the importunate widow, it is a debt of justice that is withheld. To pay her debts was the first charge given to the widow whose oil Elisha multiplied. The Church at Corinth was gently reproved for having been more forward with promises than with performances (2 Cor. 8:1–11; 9:1–7).

Application.—The good Christian should be prepared for all debts, and these may be not only legal but moral. There are neighbours who have a claim to be paid, and if I keep them waiting for their money I keep them out of their rights. To pay soon is, in many cases, greatly to increase the value of my payment. To delay is not seldom to injure my creditor. To procrastinate without cause is to lay up bitter reflections for myself in the future. To pretend to postpone when I have secretly resolved on a refusal, is neither straightforward nor safe. Perhaps I may die, or lose my money, and the claim upon me not be satisfied for long or—never. At any rate, delay in such a matter is an offence against the law of love. The Christian should be “ready to every good work,” should “love mercy.” There are also moral debts in particular, and a Gospel debt to all. “Owe no man anything but to love one another;” this is the Gospel debt. And it involves giving aid to the distressed where I can, and helping to support Christ’s Church and ministers and poor. Let not the bills be paid and the subscription books overlooked or spurned away. I must give account of my money to God. Whatever the form it takes, the root of neglect in this matter is selfishness, against which the whole law of Christianity protests.

Oh for grace to “adorn the doctrine of God my Saviour” by honourable and liberal dealings “in all things”!

January 5th

Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.”—3:9, 10.

Interpretation.—“Substance and increase” are equivalent to capita and profit. God is honoured when both are employed to His glory. The firstfruits were literally required by God of the Jews in acknowledgment of their redemption from Egypt (Exod. 13:12, 13; Deut. 26:1–3). Here the expression may be used more generally, of a fair proportion. Temporal prosperity, full barns, and vats overflowing with new wine, was a promise in harmony with a dispensation which dealt with men as with children.

Illustrations.—Abraham who honoured God in paying tithes to Melchizedek, and Jacob who dedicated to God a tenth of his substance, were markedly blessed and prospered in return. The widow who gave her all to the service of the Temple, and the woman who anointed our Lord for His burying, had each a rich reward in the notice He took of them. A plenteous spiritual harvest flowed in to Cornelius and to the Philippian converts from the alms of the one to God’s poor, and the contributions of the other to God’s minister (Acts 10:2, 4; Phil. 4:15–19).

Application.—It is clear that God is not honoured when the attempt is made to extort from capital undue profit, to reap more increase than the substance will fairly bear. Still less, when the capital is only employed for its owner’s own benefit, and the profit returns into his own coffers again. “The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine, saith the Lord of hosts” (Hag. 2:8). From time to time this truth is impressed upon man by the sudden withdrawal of all he fondly deemed his own. He recognizes in this the finger of God; but why not equally in the bestowal of his wealth? To keep us in mind of this, a proportion of our goods is claimed by the divine law. It may not be, as with the Jews, a tenth in every case. The Gospel treats us as men, and leaves it to principle and conscience to determine in every case what is due to charitable and religious objects. But, surely, I cannot think that as a Christian I am less bound than was the Jew to this duty. The redemption I acknowledge has “bought” me “with a price,” all that I am, all that I have. The reward is God’s blessing for evermore. Therefore—

O blessed Jesus, teach Thou me to regard all mine as Thine, and so to honour Thee therewith that Thou mayest be mine in life, in death, and in eternity!

January 6th (F. Epiphany)

As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”—25:25.

Interpretation.—There is no difficulty about this proverb. It sets forth the comforting and reviving effect of good news, in proportion as it is beyond expectation (for in those days how uncertain was news “from a far country”!), to one who is pining for it.

Illustrations.—How cheering to Jacob mourning his son as lost was the news that Joseph was yet alive, and governor over Egypt! No wonder his fainting heart revived (Gen. 45:27). But more soul reviving still was that Good News from a far more distant country, which came to the shepherds of Bethlehem and to the Magi, of a Saviour born. How must these men, along with the Simeons and Annas of that generation, have drunk in such refreshing tidings! The only joy which could at all compare with theirs would be that of the messengers of that Evangel when their glad message was believed, the joy, e.g. of St. Paul on account of the converts at Colosse (Col. 1:3, 4), at Ephesus (Eph. 1:15, 16), at Philippi (Phil. 1:3–6). Truly the fount in the desert which greeted Hagar’s eyes, and the supply of water which renovated Samson’s strength, were not more timely or live-giving.

Application.—Has my soul thirsted for God, for the living God? And has it experienced the joy of the Gospel revelation to itself? If so, do I rejoice to impart the same to others? Is it to me good news to hear from far-off lands of souls won through the labours of the missionary? Have I in any measure shared in the sentiments of the Divine Man sitting by the well of Sychar, to Whom, under a burning sun, it was drink to see the spiritual fields white unto the harvest? The Gospel is the best news ever imparted to mankind. If I know it, and neglect to make it known, I deprive myself and others of the highest kind of pleasure. Myself; for what must that joy be that finds its way into heaven, and moves not angels only but Deity? And others also; for what thirst can compare with that of the human soul athirst for God? But besides this, ought I not, as a Christian, to rejoice to be the bearer of any good news, of words bright and true which may uplift the desponding heart? There are birds of ill omen enough and to spare in the world. Job’s comforters abound. Christians should recommend their religion by a genial spirit and a pleasant tongue, be gospellers in a lower as well as in the highest sense.

May I, through the Holy Ghost the Comforter, so learn to know the consolation that is in Christ, that, as “a son of consolation” in this sorrowful world, I may be able to pour upon many a fevered heart the large, cool drops of heaven-sent sympathy and hope!

January 7th

Two things have I required of Thee; deny me them not before I die: Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny Thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.”—30:7–9.

Interpretation.—“Deny me them not until I die,” i.e. grant me them from this time forward. By “vanity and lies” are meant that which deceives as idolatry, and “the deceitfulness of sin” in general. “Food convenient for me” is that which is suitable and needful for me, neither more nor less. The two dangers to be guarded against are—(1) pride and presumption from “fulness of bread,” leading on to practical atheism; (2) profaneness the outcome of exasperation, or in the form of perjury to conceal a theft.

Illustrations.—Solomon, by his own confession (Eccles.), was the victim of “vanity and lies.” Lot’s ambition to be rich imperiled his faith in God, Whom “fulness of bread” led some of his family practically to deny. The mother of Micah appears to have “cursed” about a supposed loss of money (Judg. 17:2), and Ananias, pretending to more than he could afford, “lied to the Holy Ghost.”

Application.—Prayer is a crucial test of the spiritual life. As we are, so we shall pray; and as we pray, so we shall be. From time to time, especially at the opening of a new year, let me examine into the nature and spirit of my prayers. And the prayer of Agur is a good criterion by which to try them.

Do I pray, as he did, to have kept from me vanity and lies, all the idolatries and delusions of the world—its riches, honors, and friendships, so far as they would be hurtful to my soul? It is hard not to love, if we possess them, the things which God has bidden us to “love not.” Better far not to possess than to love them. So, while St. John says, “Keep yourselves from idols,” here I am taught to pray that they may be kept from me. And since great wealth tends to foster this temptation, can I pray, with Agur, “Give me not riches,” as easily as I could pray, “Give me not poverty”? It cannot be doubted that both the one and the other are evils. The happy medium is, in this respect, as in so many, the best and the safest. If all had enough, none too much or too little, the world would be happier, and most men better than they are. But sin, entering into the world, destroyed its equilibrium. Christianity alone can restore it by rectifying the heart of man.

January 8th

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”—3:5, 6.

Interpretation.—The fundamental principle of religion is involved in the first clause of this proverb, implying an entire self-commitment to the grace and truth of God. To acknowledge God (lit. “take notice of” Him) is to recognize Him as the sole arbiter of our plans. We are promised that He will then “make plain” our paths, i.e. will show us which course of action to take, and remove hindrances out of our way.

Illustrations.—Saul and David both had neglected to act upon this principle when, in bitterness of heart, each was forced to exclaim, “I have done very foolishly.” In Nehemiah we see a prayerful Jew, who committed his way at every step to God, and was led on to success and glory. Sir Matthew Hale, at the age of eighty, left it on record that whenever he had committed his way simply and unreservedly to the Lord, he had found it made plain.

Application.—Life’s pathway appears to the inexperienced to be plain as well as bright. Others would describe it as a tortuous labyrinth. Neither view is quite correct. There are windings and turnings which may perplex the most wary. But there is a Guide to whose unerring direction, if we trust, we cannot widely err; we must come right at last. When we take a wrong step, it is through leaning to our own understanding. For this, through the corruption of sin, has become quite untrustworthy. Self-will perverts, and passion blinds it. And as one wrong step is followed by another, we soon get far astray. But ought I not to use my own understanding? Undoubtedly, for God gave it to be used, and nowhere promises to help or to direct the indolent. But I must use it not as sufficient of itself, but needing to be enlightened and controlled by His Spirit. Just as the child uses its legs, but looks to its mother for guidance and support, otherwise it falls or goes wrong. We too are children, and cannot go alone. And I must bring all my matters before God. For can I say which of them is great and which small? What all-important consequences have been found to hinge on an apparently trivial act! Had Eve and Adam but refused the tempting fruit—And the great God is my Father as well as my King. Therefore His ear is open to my every cry. Two things let me remember: First, that what is least my own doing, mostly God’s, is sure to be best. Again, that (as old Andrew Fuller quaintly says), “ ‘If the Lord will’ may be a parenthesis, but ’tis the most important part of the sentence.”

May God give me the humility which saves from error!

January 9th

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”—4:7.

Interpretation.—By “wisdom” is to be understood, in a general sense, true religion, the fear of God, obedience to God’s holy law. In a particular sense Wisdom is the impersonation of the Second Person of the blessed Trinity, to us Christians of “God manifest in the flesh.” And these two views exactly coincide. For what will make a man truly religious but union with Christ? In Him he has “wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification.” “He that hath the Son hath life.” Hence “Wisdom,” called also “Understanding,” is described as “the most excellent thing,” and we are exhorted to get possession of her, yea, at the price of all we have gotten.

Illustrations.—The “pearl of great price” was thought worthy of all that the merchant finding it could dispose of. So also the “treasure hid in a field.” Thus thought the Apostles when they “gave up all and followed Christ,” and the Ephesians who burnt their soothsaying books; and all, in whatever age, who have sacrificed friends, or prospects, or wealth, or life, for Him.

Application.—The beginning of wisdom is to get Wisdom. I must not be satisfied to read about Wisdom, to admire Wisdom, to long for Wisdom. It is in my power, since God makes me the offer, to possess Wisdom. Only, as for all most precious things, so for this, a sacrifice is required. I may be called on to give up all for her. But I shall be well rewarded. If I exalt her, hold her high (not cheap) in my estimation, surely she will exalt me. She will bring me honour if (as my chosen bride) I lovingly embrace her. She will put upon my head a graceful wreath now, a crown of glory hereafter. If I forsake her not, she will preserve me from the ways of destruction, she will keep me in the way of life. This is somewhat figurative language. But in plain words it means that I, who am already in Christ by regenerative grafting in baptism, must “abide in Him.” I must intensify my union with Him by the exercise of a lively faith, by prayer, and by the due and frequent reception of His life-giving Body and Blood. “For then we dwell in Him, and He in us; we are one with Him, and He with us.” From this union will result the practice of all that is good and wise. I shall become like Him.

How does this voice from heaven contrast with the world’s voice! That says, “Get money, get fame, get enjoyment.” No room is left for Wisdom, or only the last place.

Oh, be my choice Jesus first, Jesus last, Jesus only!

January 10th

Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm.”—3:30.

Interpretation.—In these words is commended a restriction of all dispute and controversy to our relations with an actual offender. An irritable, litigious, vexing spirit is condemned.

Illustrations.—Eliab, and afterwards Saul, through no fault of David’s strove to pick a quarrel with him. Their pride was wounded, their jealousy inflamed, by indications of dawning power on David’s, part. He, on the other hand, gave no offence by his tongue, but simply turned away from his brother’s taunts and his sovereign’s uncalled-for ebullitions of fierce anger. The letter of the Syrian monarch to Jehoram, touching Naaman, was calculated to excite an apprehension of causeless provocation, and the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib was utterly unprovoked. Our blessed Lord was subjected to the “contradiction of sinners,” the scribes and Pharisees “urged Him vehemently,” and provoked Him to speak of many things, “that they might accuse Him.” Yet did He never “strive nor cry,” and so, gently baffled their fiendish purpose.

Application.—Various motives, it is evident, may prompt to the sin in question—causeless quarrelling. But why should there be any such thing? Why, indeed, unless there be a malignant pleasure felt in stirring up strife? But that would be to resemble Satan rather than the Prince of Peace. This thought alone may well deter the Christian from indulging a quarrelsome or litigious spirit. The habit may beget a taste for it. He whose quarrels had at first some show of reason and justice may go on to embark in others for which there is no excuse. Whether jealousy, or greed, or irritability be the motive, all such are equally un-Christian. And if a pleasure be actually felt in exciting anger in others, such a pleasure is simply devilish. Let me, then, when tempted to this sin under any form, stop short of it by considering Jesus as my Exemplar, who was Himself meeker than Moses, and has enjoined His disciples to be meek. Love is the spirit of His religion, and the atmosphere of heaven.

Be it mine to eschew contention and all that leads to it; to “follow after the things that make for peace;” and as much as lieth in me to live peaceably with all!

January 11th

Wisdom crieth without,” etc.—1:20.

Interpretation.—“Wisdom” (personified in Christ and His agencies) “crieth without”—in the open air as well as within doors. Her voice, clear and piercing, rises above the tumult of public places. She makes herself heard by the young and the busy. Some are addressed as “simple ones,” misled and reclaimable; some as “scorners,” self-sufficient, arrogant sceptics; some as “fools,” who, through persistent self-indulgence, have become imbruted, coarse, impenetrable. Yet all are treated as within the pale of hope, and as capable of exerting a will; all are offered the Spirit, if they will but “turn” to receive it.

Illustrations.—Jesus, when upon earth, exactly answered to this description of Wisdom. In the most frequented parts of Jerusalem, by the well of Sychar, yea, from the pulpit of the cross, He appealed to men of all sorts and classes. And still, by the fact of His incarnation, and by the ministry of His Word, He invites sinners. Some who are “simple” are quickly reclaimed, as was the Magdalene. “Scorners,” too, like the thief on the cross, have been known to yield to His exhortation. Even “fools,” the least hopeful of all, such as Sadducees for the most part were, He deigned to reason with and to warn.

Application.—It is not possible to avoid hearing this Voice. It is uttered “without”—not in secluded places, but in public; not in the Church only, but to the world. Above the tumult of pleasure and the hum of business, that Voice rises loud and clear. Hast thou not heard it, O my soul; and, hearing, hast thou obeyed?

Perhaps thou art among the “simple ones.” Thou hast gone astray, the dupe of others, the victim of delusion and inexperience. The flowery path is soft beneath thy feet; the syren voice sounds pleasant in thine ears. But Wisdom cries to thee, “How long wilt thou love simplicity?” And, oh, thou art offered something so much better than the world offers. “Behold” (if thou wilt but heed), Jesus says, “I will pour out My Spirit unto you; I will make known My words unto you.” Jesus will slake thine appetite from “rivers of living water.” He will make known to thee “the words of eternal life.”

Take heed thou fall not into the condition of the scoffer or the fool. Scoffs are parrying strokes to keep conviction away. Conviction constantly resisted, the heart becomes fleshy and hard; the condition of a fool is arrived at. It is not asserted that either condition is hopeless, but it is full of peril. Therefore—

God give me to heed Wisdom’s cry betimes, that, being “satisfied early” with His mercy, I may be glad and rejoice all my days!

January 12th

Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, but they shall not find Me.”—1:28.

Interpretation.—“Then,” not till after they have been called and sought with loving solicitude. To seek “early” is to seek diligently. Thus God reproaches His people with His “rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not” (Jer. 7:13). The reproach will be turned into a ground of condemnation if not heeded. The retribution will be that they shall seek Him early, but shall not find Him.

Illustrations.—Esau, who had despised his birthright blessing, sought it vainly at last with tears. The Israelites, who would not hear when God spake unto them, but went against the Amorites, in vain wept before the Lord afterwards (Deut. 1:43–45). Too late did the foolish virgins knock for admission at the door they might have entered had they been in time.

Application.—Wisdom reiterates her invitations. But if the sinner refuse, or make excuse, or procrastinate, then, at last, judgment utters her voice. The call was tender and winning; the sentence is severe and repellant.

But who can complain of injustice? For had the truants but answered the Voice, they would have seen a Hand outstretched to beckon, to welcome them back. Yea, the very Hands that were stretched upon the cross would have been laid upon their heads in blessing. But alas! “no man regarded.” And then, when warned, by sickness or death before their eyes, by hairbreadth escapes, by many a thrilling fear, “they set at nought all His counsel.” And when to this, in love, He added the thunder of the law, the sharp remonstrances of conscience, and the touching revelation of His cross, “they would none of His reproof.”

So, at last, the terrible retribution is denounced. “Because I have called, and ye refused: therefore shall ye call upon Me, but I will not answer. Because I have stretched out My hand, but no man regarded: therefore shall ye seek Me eagerly (with outstretched, suppliant hands), but ye shall not find Me. Because ye have set at nought My counsel, I also will laugh at your calamity. Because ye would none of My reproof, I will mock when your fear cometh.”

Great God! is this true? Is this Thy Word? And am I yet spared? And does the Voice of Wisdom yet invite me? Oh, give me grace to heed, to obey that Voice! It calls me back to God, to my home in His Church, to a son’s place at His table, to walk henceforth in His ways. If I have not already, I must, I will return. For how self-condemned I shall be, if, at the last, I find Him deaf to my entreaties, and learn too late that in rejecting Him I ensured my own rejection!

January 13th

The prosperity of fools shall destroy them”—1:32.

Interpretation.—By “prosperity,” we may understand a successful career in general, or success in some particular scheme, or a long spell of impunity. Any one of these tends, in the case of ungodly and vicious men, to bring about their undoing.

Illustrations.—See Nebuchadnezzar so intoxicated with prosperity as that his brain reels, and he falls to the condition of a beast. See King Saul so misunderstanding and misusing the success God gave him, as, after having conquered Amalek, to destroy his own fortunes. See the inhabitants of the well-watered plain of Sodom, tempted, through “fulness of bread,” to evils which called for fire from heaven. What shall we say of Haman, whose success in self-aggrandizing schemes emboldened him to take one fatal step too many? What of Ahab and Jezebel, and Herod and the rulers in our Lord’s time, who, relying on their impunity, added sin to sin till they had filled up the measure of their iniquities, and provoked their ruin?

Application.—There is a prosperity which God bestows as the reward of virtue, which may be accepted thankfully and without distressing fears; though in all cases the prayer should ascend from the heart against temptations engendered by “wealth.” But the warning of to-day’s text is specially directed against success in evil doing, and should make me tremble if I am prospering in any wrong way. Better far to be found out in my sin, and brought through shame to repentance, than to go on in it to my utter destruction. For impunity, though it may seem to be a gain, is really a deadly snare. The young pilferer undetected goes on (how often!) to become a systematic thief. A few successful throws of the dice, and an honest trade has been exchanged for the ruinous profession of the gambler. Secret sins, unknown to all but God, have burst forth at last into open transgressions, to the irretrievable loss of character. Or, again, there is a prosperity which, not being justly earned, or not gratefully accepted at the hands of God, tends to harden the heart and to lull into a false security. Those rich men who oppress the poor or allow them to lie starving at their gates, while they congratulate themselves on having the means to eat and drink and be merry,—will they not wish one day that they had been rather in the place of Lazarus? To be “let alone,” “without chastening,” in enjoyment of unmixed prosperity,—what more dangerous than this?

Far, far from me be the short-lived triumph of sin! Rather, O my God, pluck me from the “seat of folly,” and give me present shame with future glory!

January 14th

A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is His delight.”—11:1 (16:2).

Interpretation.—This proverb is the first of eleven wise sayings on the value of a just demeanor towards one’s neighbor, and on the curse of unrighteousness. “A true weight” is literally “a full stone,” according to the law of Moses (Deut. 25:13), and such “a just weight” is that which God delights in having. In many shops in Palestine, smooth stones are still used as weights in the balances. A general affirmation is here couched under a particular one, viz. that all unjust dealing is “an abomination to the Lord.”

Illustrations.—Dishonesty in commercial transactions is condemned throughout the Bible. Thus, by His prophet Amos (8:8, etc.) God is heard pronouncing sentence upon the Jews. “Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein?” And what is “this” but “making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit” (ver. 5)? St. James, some centuries later, brings a similar complaint against the Jews of his day, and threatens them with the divine vengeance. “Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth” (5:4). Nay, there is such a thing as trying to cheat God, as He complains by Malachi, of those who offered the blind and lame and sick in sacrifice, who are pronounced “accursed” (1:8, 14). While they who withheld the tithes and offerings due, are said to “rob God” (3:8). Of Christians, too, the sad complaint is made, “Ye do wrong and defraud, and that your brethren” (1 Cor. 6:8).

Application.—Nothing can be more certain than this, that strict honesty, the giving all their due, is binding upon God’s people. It is an abomination to Him if I cheat in the smallest as well as in the greatest matters, as a boy with marbles, as a tradesman with weights and measures, as a merchant in wholesale commissions. Let me remember God in commerce, and that my weights are weighed in heaven. To defraud the revenue is only to rob millions instead of a few. To underpay or keep back the wages of a servant is to hand myself over to their Avenger. To withhold what is due from God’s service is to attempt to rob Him. Whereas, the first principle of true religion is “to do justly” (Mic. 6:8). The golden rule of Christ’s own making is to do to others as I would they should do to me. A just weight is God’s delight.

God helping me, I will live a life of blameless honour, as before Him!

January 15th

When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.”—11:2.

Interpretation.—“There cometh arrogance, so also cometh shame.” The first is always followed by the other. Therefore there can be no wisdom in pride. “But with the lowly,” the humble, those who hide themselves, those who renounce themselves, is wisdom. And wisdom confers honor (3:16; 8:18), such as is beyond the grasp of pride.

Illustrations.—How quickly shame followed upon the indulgence of proud aspirations in the case of our first parents, the Babel builders, Haman, and Nineveh (Zeph. 2:15)! in the last case illustrating the truth that destruction is never nearer than when security hath driven away fear. Miriam’s petulance, and jealousy of Moses, and Uzziah’s intrusion into the priestly office, both followed by an infliction which put them to open shame, are instances of the danger of an indiscretion which would overleap bounds set by God Himself. Whereas, in the son of Kish, when he hid himself, shrinking from election to the throne (1 Sam. 10:22); in Abraham meekly giving way before the encroachments of his nephew Lot (Gen. 13:8–12); above all, in the lowly Child Jesus, who sat at the doctors’ feet, there was a true wisdom, which brought with it true honor.

Application.—Were it really believed that shame must always follow upon pride, what a change would be effected in society! And still more, if the counter-truth were equally credited that wisdom, with honor, invariably attends upon lowliness. I know it is so myself, but do I so practically believe as to act upon this knowledge? If so, I shall be very careful not to put myself forward, lest I be thrust back; not to live beyond my means, lest I come to poverty; not to affect knowledge, lest my ignorance be exposed; not to insult the weak, that I be not trampled upon by the strong. After all, what is there to be proud of? What have I that I have not received? What have I that may not be taken from me any day? Ay, what have I not of defects and actual faults, were the truth only known,—enough to soil and tarnish my good repute with the world? Better, far better my pride be now corrected by shame, than that shame come when mercy has passed away. Happy if I now learn of Jesus lowliness, that unaffected humility which wins esteem even in this world, and is rightly accounted wisdom! Best to be prostrate as a sinner before God, and wait for the Voice which may bid me come up higher! The honor grace bestows, grace will enable me to wear with meekness.

January 16th

The integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them.”—11:3.

Interpretation.—Integrity is whole-heartedness. Uprightness is straightforwardness. Given these two, and the pathway of safety will surely be kept. Whereas “the faithless,” who conceal malicious thoughts and plans, will try crooked ways, leading sooner or later to destruction. Perfect honesty in dealing with our neighbor is here contrasted with subtle, underhand, false dealings, and commended as “the good and the right way.”

Illustrations.—Ahitophel and Joab were both of them men who took crafty and treacherous measures to compass their ends. The first, disloyal to his king, sought to betray him into the hands of his wicked son, and brought shame and ruin on his own hoar head. The other, jealous of a rival, assassinated him under cover of friendship, and in the end, himself sued in vain for mercy at the horns of the altar. Whereas Joseph and Daniel, by their guileless loyalty and simple integrity of purpose, were enabled to steer their course safely through the intrigues of foreign courts, winning esteem and confidence and prosperity in the long run.

Application.—In my dealings with others, let me aim at simplicity of purpose, honesty, and candor. Like Nathanael, a Christian should be without guile. He should put on “the breastplate of righteousness.” The way of the world is tortuous; its wisdom is that of the serpent. Its words are “softer than butter,” while war is in its heart. It dissembles, to conceal wrath, till the opportunity for revenge is come. It smites unawares, perhaps after a friendly kiss. But can such perfidy be pleasing to Him who is “the Truth”? And is it not certain to provoke requitals, and to lead to misery, if not ruin? Be it mine to deal openly with an enemy, if such I have. Let me tell him to his face his fault, and if he will not hear me, let me tell it to the Church, or at least to some spiritual overseer, who may act as a go-between. If this fail, the fault will not be mine. And so, in all matters of business and in the social relations of life—

Oh for a single eye to see my duty, and for a heart “without folds,” to aim at nothing else, that I may go straight forward, and avoid the pitfalls of the enemy!

January 17th

My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, neither be weary of His correction.”—3:11.

Interpretation.—The word “chastening” here is derived from a Hebrew verb, which means “to take one into school.” God’s house of correction is His school of instruction. We are cautioned on the one hand not to “despise,” on the other hand not to “weary of” or “loathe” punishment at God’s hand. And a sufficient reason is given in the next verse. It is a proof that God loves us as a Father, nay, that He “delights in” us as sons.

Illustrations.—This sentiment would seem to have been taken from the lips of Job (Job 5:17). And indeed it aptly expresses both the problem of the Book of Job and its solution. For why was that good man so sorely afflicted, but to teach him self-knowledge, and to set before the Church an example of God’s dealings with His children? Job lived to acknowledge the blessing of the rod by abhorring his own self-righteousness. How many since his day have learnt the same or other good lessons through being chastened—to return from the ways of sin with David (Ps. 119:67), to own the sufficiency of God’s grace with St. Paul (2 Cor. 12:7–9), to say with the Holy Jesus, “Thy will be done.”

Application.—Trouble of one kind or another is the lot of man. But sanctified trouble is the portion of the people of God. As a Christian, why should I complain of or be surprised at any affliction which may befall me? Ought I not rather to rejoice in it? Or, if this be too hard at first, at least let me acquiesce without murmuring, and try to derive the good from it which is intended me. If brought directly upon myself by my own folly or wrong-doing, its lesson is too plain to be missed. If sent immediately from God, He will teach its lesson to my obedient ear. Let me be sure that all punishment has its lesson, and will only prove a blessing in proportion as that is learnt. Some will advise me to “pass it off” by diversion or company. Others will try to harden me against it, as though it were unjust and intolerable. My own heart will be very prone to rebel.

But oh, may I be enabled to see in it a Father’s hand, to kiss and “hear the rod,” and, learning all its lessons, to rejoice in it at the last!

January 18th

The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.”—11:17.

Interpretation.—The general meaning of this proverb is clear. There is a retributive law at work which rewards or punishes men even in this life. Thus, mercy or benevolence both “blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.” It promotes true happiness. It wins friends. It is favorable to health and good spirits. Moreover, the merciful man will find a merciful God. Whereas unmercifulness or cruelty is quite the reverse of this in its reactionary effects.

Illustrations.—How happy was Job when, returning kindness for unkindness, he prayed for his friends, and the Lord turned his captivity and doubled his wealth! The widow of Sarepta and the Shunammite, for their benevolence to a stranger, found “a prophet’s reward.” Cornelius, large-hearted and generous, brought good to his own soul. On the other hand, unmerciful Cain becomes an outcast and miserable. Cruel Adonibezek and Agag receive in their own flesh the hard measure dealt out by themselves to others. Ahab’s selfish unneighborliness takes away his appetite, and sends him to bed heavy and displeased, to reap in the future, along with his hard-hearted wife, a harvest of shame and death from their deeds of cruelty.

Application.—I may be tempted any day to be hard and unmerciful. A wrong is done or an insult offered me which it seems my duty not to pass over. Or repeated misbehavior calls for condign punishment. Now, doubtless there are cases which justify severe action. There are offences which demand the interposition of the law. There is an anger which may have free scope, and yet be without sin. But these are always offences of a more or less public character, which affect the family, the nation, the Church. Personal offences should always receive mercy at the hands of one who has himself obtained mercy of God. Let me beware of justifying a spirit of private, personal vindictiveness, and even more, of inflicting or taking pleasure in needless pain. Let me be willing to accept an apology. Let me enjoy that highest and most Godlike pleasure of doing good, yes, in return for evil. So shall I do good to my own soul, and, rising above all cruel passions, breathe that atmosphere of love which surrounds the heaven where Jesus is, and where I hope to be.

January 19th

There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.”—11:24 (vv. 25, 26).

Interpretation.—“Many a one scattereth, and it increaseth still; and many save only to poverty.” This is the first of three proverbs which encourage liberality both by promise and warning. They teach that both God’s blessing and man’s rest upon the “liberal soul”—the “soul of blessing,” as the words literally mean. And on the other hand, that loss follows upon stinginess, and a “piercing curse” upon a cruel and unjust profit.

Illustrations.—In Abraham, the model of a gentleman at once wealthy and generous, we see how the blessing of God prospers the liberal soul. Job also, in the end, received a plentiful increase from the seed he had sown in deeds of charity during the days of his affluence. How rich the spiritual reward Cornelius reaped from the “alms” he bestowed upon the poor! The Philippians, bountiful towards their spiritual father (Phil. 4:15), became distinguished for their spiritual gifts (Phil. 1:4, 5). We know Who has said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” While in the picture drawn by Solomon (Eccles. 4:8), we behold the griping and penurious miser unsatisfied and poor indeed; and in the famine which fell upon the Jews (Hag. 1:4–11; Mal. 3:8–12), we learn how God Himself will avenge a grudging spirit manifested towards His Temple.

Application.—It is truest wisdom to be bountiful according to our means. For almsgiving (if done religiously) does not impoverish. What is given to the poor is lent to the Lord, and He gives good interest. Beneficence may not indeed increase our possessions, but it contributes to our highest welfare. What we bestow upon others from right motives is real charity to ourselves. For “not getting but giving is the best thrift.” And if not in temporal good things, yet surely in spiritual, the God of all grace will refresh and thus recompense the cheerful giver. Whereas disappointment and loss even here await the penurious and the grudging. They lose in one way or another more than the value of that which they ought to have given away. They forfeit alike God’s blessing and man’s.

May I learn this piece of sacred political economy! And may my heart be enlarged to do good to all men, not counting the cost, in a spirit of faith and love!

January 20th

Surely He scorneth the scorners: but He giveth grace unto the lowly.”—3:34.

Interpretation.—The word here and elsewhere translated “scorners” was first invented in the age of Solomon, and is used in contrast to the “wise.” A definition of it is given by the Preacher himself (21:24). The “scorner” is distinguished from the “simple” by the conscious self-sufficiency of his ungodly thoughts and deeds. His disowning “The Holy,” in spite of better knowledge and opportunities, distinguishes him from those “foolish,” who are gross and stupid, as well as from those who are lax and remiss—and from the man “void of understanding,” i.e. lacking sense. In short, he is one of those supercilious sceptics who are bred in a luxurious and intellectual age. The very opposite to him is the “lowly man,” i.e. he who bends himself, the gentle and humble, the patient and the passive one. And in this proverb the two are contrasted as they appear in God’s eyes: “While on the one hand He scorneth the scorners, so, on the other, He giveth grace unto the lowly.”

Illustrations.—Holy Scripture abounds in these. But our blessed Lord’s life furnishes the most apposite for us Christians. In His days the Pharisees, as a class, were the “scorners.” And how they scorned Him may be seen by the conduct of Simon, inviting Him to his house (out of curiosity), but withholding the ordinary courtesies; watching Him with supercilious countenance; reflecting upon Him with an air of superior wisdom and holiness; and averting his eyes from the poor penitent at His feet, as a “sinner” unworthy of a thought. With what judicial scorn does Jesus expose his hollowness and his folly! While turning to the “lowly” Magdalene, He gives her “grace,” yea, “more grace,” to perfect her repentance and her peace.

Application.—It is evident that God’s countenance towards men is in some sort a reflection of their’s towards Him. Thus the Psalmist says, “With the froward Thou wilt show Thyself froward” (18:26). And here I am taught by Solomon that if I, in my petty wisdom, affect to despise God, His ways, His Word, His ordinances, I may expect a fearful retribution at His hands. What must it be to be laughed to scorn by the Omniscient One? Far, then, from me be that proud rationalism and so-called free-thought, which treats God and His Church and myriads of His creatures with tacit if not avowed contempt!

Be mine the humility which is both a grace and a vessel to receive grace, and to which Jesus will add “grace upon grace,” even unto glory!

January 21st

The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.”—3:35.

Interpretation.—An appropriate winding up of a series of proverbs upon wisdom. The end is foretold. Glory becomes the inheritance of the wise, ay, even in this world; much more in the next. Whereas (according to one translation) “shame sweeps fools away” (according to another), “shame elevates fools,” i.e. only to it do they owe their celebrity as warning examples. Whichever version we adopt, the lesson remains the same—that glory is the fruit of wisdom, in other words, of true religion; and shame of ungodliness.

Illustrations.—Many of the good men of old, such as Joseph, David, Daniel, were promoted to great honor by reason of their virtuous and religious principles. Others, such as Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and Eli’s sons, have become immortalized in history only through their misdoings. Under the Christian dispensation, temporal rewards and punishments are less conspicuously bestowed. Yet who will not contrast the case of Judas the traitor with that of the worthy host of Jesus at Bethany? And as to the life to come, the promise is to them “that are wise,” that they “shall shine (with a glory) as the brightness of the firmament.” While they “whose glory is in their shame” shall “rise to shame and everlasting contempt.”

Application.—How clearly, in this inspired Book, is the contrast drawn between the wise and the foolish—the godly and the ungodly! On the one hand, I find the portion of God’s servants to be honor and safety (1:9, 33), protection and preservation (2:7, 16), favor, wealth, long life (3:4, 16, 22), domestic blessings and God’s grace (3:33, 34). On the other hand, the consequences of an irreligious life are clearly marked out as ruin and death (1:19, 26, etc.), seduction and destruction (2), desolation and domestic unhappiness (3:25), scorn and shame. Can I hesitate a moment which life to choose? Nay, has it not already been chosen for me at my baptism, by me at my confirmation? What I have to do is, by God’s help, to pursue it steadfastly to the end, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left.

And, oh, may my portion be with the truly wise in glory, and not with the fools in shame! Having been made “an heir of glory,” let me not forfeit it, preferring the heritage of the fool!

January 22nd

He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it; and he that hateth suretyship is sure.”—11:15.

Interpretation.—This proverb, with several others (6:1, etc., 20:16; 17:18; 22:26, 27), cautions against rash suretyship. The treatment of debtors among the Jews was usually harsh (2 Kings 4:1; Matt. 18:25). And such would be the treatment of a surety held liable for a bankrupt. Hence it is recommended strongly not to give security for “a stranger,” nor even for a “neighbor” (6:1) of whose principles and means you are not quite assured. How many who are neighbors are yet strangers to us in these respects! The experienced wise man foretells as almost certain that it will “fare ill” with so rash a surety—he will “smart;” yea, “be sore broken for it,” unless (6:3, etc.) he “bestir himself” betimes, and succeed in forcing the heedless or unprincipled debtor either to fulfil his engagement, or else release him from his bond. But he who, as a rule, abjures suretyship will be free from such risks and disquietude.

Illustrations.—There is no example given us in Holy Scripture of the weakness here guarded against. But the words of the Psalmist exactly illustrate the caution of the wise man within its due limits: “A good man showeth favor, and lendeth: he will guide his affairs with discretion” (Ps. 112:5).

Application.—How good of God to give such advice as this! For without it one might have misunderstood some words of our blessed Lord (Matt. 5:42). But the Divine Wisdom cannot contradict itself. Nor can there be one morality for the Jew, another for the Christian. Hence I may be sure that while my Master would have me open-handed and unsuspicious, as a rule, He does not require of me, nay, He absolutely forbids, such thoughtless entanglement as would destroy my peace and independence and cripple my powers for good. I am to be generous, but I must be just also, and this I cannot be to others if I spend more than is due upon one. Doubtless there may be cases in which I may be justified, ay, bound, to give security for another, as holy Paul for Onesimus. “He who would have friends must show himself friendly;” and timely help of this kind might save a brother from ruin. But I must be careful not to run such a risk for any one of whom there is not good reason to believe that he will prove solvent; unless, indeed, I am prepared to give what he owes. To be bound for the thriftless and immoral is to throw my substance away (20:16). If I have pledged myself rashly, through want of moral courage to say “No,” I must not shirk my obligation, but must, if possible, get released from it by honest means.

Jesus, my Surety, stand by me in the hour of my direst need, and save me from the penalty of debts which I can never pay!

January 23rd

Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.”—9:8.

Interpretation.—This proverb is the second of a group of three which inculcate the same truth. It is, as a rule, lost trouble, and worse, to reprove a scorner. By a “scorner” (as before observed) is meant the free-thinker, who mocks at religion and virtue. With him is contrasted “the wise man,” who believes in and fears God. The sentiment of the first clause resembles our Lord’s advice, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matt. 7:6). On the other hand, “Wisdom is justified of all her children” (Matt. 11:19). “Rebuke a wise man, (so) he will love thee.”

Illustrations.—A signal instance of the uselessness and danger of attempting to warn the scorner is found in the case of the prophet sent to Amaziah (2 Chron. 25:15, 16). The threats which requited his heaven-inspired words caused him to forbear, and leave the infatuated monarch to his fate. The silence preserved by the Jews under Rabshakeh’s taunts is recommended by Amos (5:13) for “an evil time,” and was practiced oftentimes by our Lord, when in the company of scoffers. But Nathan won only greater esteem of David through his reproof of him. And the warm-hearted Apostle Peter proved himself “a wise man” by the love which he returned his Master, and afterwards his fellow-Apostle St. Paul, for reproof too well-deserved (Gal. 2:11–14; 2 Pet. 3:15).

Application.—It has been well said, that “reproof is a duty of almost insuperable difficulty.” A duty; for it was laid upon the Jew (Lev. 19:17), and is not less binding upon the Christian (Eph. 5:11). And yet it is no less a duty to abstain, under certain circumstances, from reproving with the lips, lest thereby sin be increased. For hatred, abuse, hardening, may ensue on the one side; and, through provocation, “a blot” be incurred on the other. I need, then, special wisdom from above to know when and how to fulfil the Christian duty to reprove; and when and how to forbear. I must be imbued with true love for my brother, and with deepest humility as regards my own faults and failings. I must have learnt to take reproof myself in good part; to love the friend who faithfully inflicts wounds for my healing. Let me pray and strive daily for a right sense of sin and of the soul’s value, and specially to know myself! Then I may hope to bear my testimony in the world, whether by “the word spoken in season” or the significant silence, and not less to submit myself thankfully to wholesome reproof.

January 24th

He knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell.”—9:18 (or vide p. 189).

Interpretation.—With these words the first division of the Proverbs closes. Wisdom and Folly have both uttered their invitations. The first is personified as a chaste queen; the second as a brazen harlot. Each takes pains to address arguments and offer inducements to the passers-by. But the first invites to a spiritual banquet within a temple, and offers life to the soul at the cost of present self-denial. The other invites to a feast of sensuality in her own house, which is, indeed, the abode of death. The temptations of Folly embrace every kind of sinful self-indulgence, its great attraction being that it is forbidden, and must be enjoyed secretly. But no doubt sins of impurity are here specially alluded to, and this passage may be compared with that in ch. 7:7, etc.; and the words before us with verse 27, “Her house is the way to hell.”

Illustrations.—Death in life is said to be the portion of all who choose “the pleasures of sin for a season,” rather than the life-giving privileges of the Christian. Thus our Lord speaks of those who have “a name to live, but are dead” (Rev. 3:1); and St. Paul of one who, living in pleasure, “is dead while she liveth” (1 Tim. 5:6). Samson and David, and Solomon himself, all hearkened to the invitation of the syren, and for a while at least, became her guests in the depths of hell. St. Augustine, an inmate at one time of the same dead-house, bewails his folly, and owns that, as a boy, he was tempted to rob an orchard, not for the gain of the fruit, but for the mere pleasure of sin as sin—of doing what was forbidden secretly.

Application.—Let me remember that such temptations are “common to man.” That they meet those who go “right on their ways,” even in the path of duty, as well as others who go to seek them. That the “simple” may fall, no less than “scorners”—absence of religious principle, as well as positive irreligion, being alike dangerous. The void in the heart will be filled by Folly if not by Wisdom. To some the mere offer is enough: “Turn in hither.” To others, whose conscience suggests, “It is forbidden,” the tempter whispers, “So much the sweeter;” or “It must be done secretly, and will be the more exciting.” But let me ask myself, “Is there such a thing as secret sin?” And again, “With life and glory set before me, shall I choose death, and shame, and the depths of hell?”

Lord, show me Thyself, the true Wisdom, that, haviny tasted of Thy sweetness, I may abhor sinful delights!

January 25th (F. Conversion of St. Paul)

Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.… Turn not to the right hand nor to the left.”—4:25, 27.

Interpretation.—A single eye, as contrasted with one that squints, is a good eye morally as well as physically. To such our Lord alludes (Matt. 6:22); and so here the wise man speaks of an eye that looks straight out. Only in connection with such an eye is straightforward progress possible. In other words, he only whose heart is honest, whose motives are upright, will take the safe and right course through life, avoiding every false and wrong step.

Illustrations.—Balaam is an example of a man whose moral eyes did not both “look right on,” but one, at least, askew. He had some thoughts and desires towards God, made some movements towards doing His will; but, on the other hand, could not help casting a longing look at “the wages of unrighteousness.” And so he turned out of the plain path of duty, did not remove his foot from evil, and his ways were not established; on the contrary, he fell away altogether. St. Paul, whose conversion we commemorate, is an example of the single aim and the single eye. God had counted him “faithful” even when he was an unbeliever in Christ, because his honest aim was to do God’s will. No sooner had his question been answered, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” than he obeyed. This was straightforward walking, and who can doubt the end?

Application.—Straight forward lies the path of safety. But do my eyes look right on? This is the real question. My aim—the end proposed—is it to please God or self? If the former, and I seek His guidance, and ponder my path by the conscientious, prayerful study of His Word, then the way of duty becomes too plain for me to miss it. But if I am secretly still more desirous of something else, of pleasure, gain, man’s praise, or ease and comfort, then my steps will obey my mind’s eye, and pursue an indirect course. Is my eye single? In other words, am I able to look straight before me, and not, through some moral imperfection, such as a habit of quibbling or of nursing prejudices, only able to see obliquely? When a certain line of action plainly lies before me as the path of duty, can I see my way to taking it?

May my eye be “single,” and so may my feet he kept from evil—never to depart from God’s ways, nor attain an evil end circuitously! O God, draw me daily nearer to Thyself in constant well-doing!

January 26th

The upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it. But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it.”—2:21, 22.

Interpretation.—By “the land” and “the earth” is meant here, as in many other places in the Old Testament, Canaan, the land promised to the patriarchs, given to Israel. The highest earthly prosperity is implied by the promise to dwell in the native land. For the Israelite was attached, above other men, to his fatherland with a religious intensity. Bound up with the covenant and the theocracy was his native soil, and as to dwell under his own fig-tree and eat of his own vine was an Israelite’s idea of temporal happiness, so to be torn from it would be to be strained and broken in the inmost roots of his being. Hence the form of expression here employed implies that temporal well-being will be, as a rule, the result of a virtuous and God-fearing life, while vice and ungodliness will usually entail misfortune and misery.

Illustrations.—Jacob, setting out on his journey to a far-off land as a consequence of his unfilial fraud, is a melancholy individual instance of the fulfilment of this proverb. In the heart-broken captives who hung their harps on the willows of Babylon, we see the threat fulfilled in a nation. And what is the present condition of the Jews, as a people, but a perpetual witness to the truth of these words? Their wickedness and their transgression in killing the Prince of Life have cut them off from the land and rooted them out of it.

Application.—But is it still God’s plan, under the Gospel dispensation, to reward and punish by temporal prosperity and misfortune? Undoubtedly, as a rule, though with exceptions as formerly (vide Ps. 73). The fifth commandment is still “the first with promise.” In the Sermon on the Mount, many of the promises have reference to this world, and one of them corresponds very nearly to the one before us (Matt. 5:5). A competency is promised to those who “seek first the kingdom of God.” “Godliness” is said to have “the promise of the life that now is.” Bodily life loved above Jesus is to be forfeited. True, the higher and more spiritual motives brought to light by the Gospel are far more commonly urged. But cause and effect are allowed to work as a law; and how often do we see that what men call “misfortune” dogs the steps of vice, nay, banishes from the native land! An opposite course of life brings its own reward.

Mine be the good and wise choice that I may be blessed on the earth, and may inherit the true Canaan!

January 27th

Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: so shalt thou find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man.”—3:3, 4.

Interpretation.—“Mercy and truth” are here equivalent to “kindness or love, and trustworthiness.” They comprehend our duty towards our neighbor. They are to be carefully guarded, as a signet-ring or other precious jewel is guarded by being attached to a chain worn round the neck. This figure of speech implies still more—that we should not only hold fast these graces, but rejoice and even exult in them as fair ornaments of the Christian character. They must not, however, be worn on the outside only, but must be the outcome of principles inscribed on “the fleshy tables of the heart.” The result will be “favor and good reputation,” or “good success,” in the sight of God and men, not, indeed, of men indiscriminately, but of men who, being good men, more or less resemble God.

Illustrations.—No better example of the combination of social graces here spoken of can be found than the Son of man, our Exemplar, Who, from a Child, was in favor with God and with all good men, through His loving and faithful character in every relation of life. And those early Christians resembled Him of whose neighborly virtues we read (Acts 2:44, etc.), and of whom it is immediately afterwards recorded that they had “favor with all the people” (ver. 47).

Application.—Christianity commends itself to the world through the social graces of its professors. Many who might be repelled by its mysterious facts, or be unable to grasp its spiritual doctrine, will be attracted by it when found to produce a higher standard of morals than any other religion upon earth. Now, this it certainly does when adopted as the practical guide of life. The true Christian, as all history which dates from Christ’s mission proves, is emphatically the best of neighbors. In him love and truth (virtues all can appreciate, and which most conduce to social happiness and security) shine out pre-eminently. Be it, then, my great aim to cultivate these two, so that my Christianity may win souls. They must needs be the fruit of a living faith in Jesus, and of endeavors to follow in His steps. I must take care that neither the one nor the other be lost or obscured in my daily life. If I am to “put on bowels of mercy” and to “walk in love,” I am equally to speak truth with my neighbor. A hard, unloving, faithless Christian is an anomaly, and belies his name. No favor may such expect with God and man for himself or his religion.

Oh, may my duty to my neighbor, as to God, be the outcome of a heart renewed by grace divine!

January 28th

If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.”—2:3, 4, 5.

Interpretation.—To lift up the voice for Understanding is to call her to thee, invite her, not only to heed her when she calls thee. The search must be as diligent as the tireless search of the miner after the hid treasures of metals, etc., concealed in the earth, following up the vein discovered. Such real efforts will be rewarded by that knowledge of God, His nature, His ways, His revelations, which is of all treasures the most valuable.

Illustrations.—Our Lord’s parable of the man who, finding a treasure hid in a field, went and sold all that he had and bought that field, illustrates the earnestness of purpose here recommended. Examples of it we meet with in the story of the Ethiopian (Acts 8:27, etc.), and of the Bereans (Acts 17:11, etc.), who, seeking diligently for the truth, found it and made it their own.

Application.—How much of life is spent in the search after things which are of comparatively small value and very perishable! But the knowledge of God, the understanding of true religion,—these are treasures worth seeking for, they are satisfying and eternal. I may not hope to acquire them, however, without painstaking and self-sacrifice. But is not this true of any human service or any worldly emolument? How much more, then, is it reasonable in regard to “theology,” or the science of God, and to the possession of God Himself! Of that treasure-house God keepeth the key in His own hand! For this He will be inquired of, wouldst thou have Him open it unto thee. “Surely there is a vein for the silver” (Job 28:1). Yet what miner would be satisfied not to pursue it below the surface? Wouldst thou get the best treasures? Go down on thy knees, and dig for them. Pursue the vein, bring all skill and appliances to bear upon thy undertaking. Only by earnest prayer, only by patient meditation, only by diligent study, and not without self-sacrifice, is divine knowledge to be won. The heart, too, must be purified, examined by the candle of an enlightened conscience, and swept with the besom of reform. The life of Christian obedience is a life of continual progress in spiritual understanding. To follow on to know the Lord is the way to know Him now. To know Him now by faith prepares the way for revelations which shall never cease.

O God, incline my heart to seek after, that I may find, Thee!

January 29th

My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.”—1:10.

Interpretation.—The address, “my son,” is from Solomon, and yet from One greater than Solomon (comp. 23:26). Perhaps it is rather a figurative than a literal term. It is addressed to all the sons of men, specially to the young. The “sinners” warned against are open and avowed libertines, put in contrast here with the father and mother whose good counsels should be heard and followed. The exhortation is to one who has been well brought up, and will need, therefore, to be enticed into deliberate wickedness. Not to “consent” is to say “No” with heart and voice.

Illustrations.—Eve and then Adam suffered themselves to be enticed, the latter with open eyes. The prophet of Judah yielded at last to the sophistries of the older prophet, against his better judgment. On the other hand, Joseph, Job, Nehemiah, and a host of other saints, have had grace, when tempted, to say “No;” have been proof against seduction, ridicule, threats.

Application.—It is an essential part of the wisdom of true religion to know when to say “No.” We must take for granted that occasions will arise, perhaps daily, for “sinners” abound. A compliant disposition, while it wins popularity, may entail ruin. Better forfeit the favor of man than of God. When the world is most friendly it is most to be feared. A round, blunt refusal meets its blandishments with most success. Enticement (as represented in the text) is more or less based upon the assurance of (1) privity, (2) gain, (3) generosity on the tempter’s part. To the first, God’s child will oppose the thought, “Thou God seest me.” To the second, the reflection, “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?” To the third, the consideration, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” Safety lies only in prompt and absolute refusal, accompanied, if possible, by withdrawal from the injurious company. Two convictions will lead to this: the one of the extremes to which a guilty compliance may lead; the other of the exceeding danger of a first false step. After all, it is at the choice of my own will to yield or not. Satan’s servants, it is true, are diligent and subtle. The human heart is deceitful. Sin is very attractive when partially seen under some aspects. But grace is given to God’s children to will to say “No,” and to say it, and to know when to say it.

O God, enable me to seek and use this grace, that no enticement may draw away my heart from Thee!

January 30th

When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee.”—2:10, 11.

Interpretation.—Wisdom and knowledge generate discretion and understanding. By the first is meant the capacity for well-considered action. By the second, the capacity to make the right choice. These two deliver from the two greatest perils of life, the temptations incident to men and women from one another. They both indicate and give the power how to say “No.”

Illustrations.—Joseph furnishes, of course, an example of how, under the most trying circumstances, the religious principle will enable a young man to say “No” to the seductress. Nehemiah had many temptations to forego his good work; Micaiah was tempted to sacrifice truth to popularity; Joshua and Caleb might have followed a multitude to do evil; but in each case there was that love of God’s will which at once determined them to oppose “the evil man.”

Application.—That men and women should mutually tempt to sin is only a proof of the corruption of human nature. But that resistance of such temptation is possible proves no less the efficacy of the grace of God. By this it is that wisdom—the power to discern good from evil—and knowledge of God as the supreme good, enter into a man and become a vital principle of action. Not speculative views of religion are meant, but practical apprehension of it. First the object of search, soon it becomes the object of pleasure. And a taste of that pleasure experimentally goes far to outbid the proffered pleasures of sin. So that it becomes more and more easy to say “No” to the tempter under whatever aspect. Is this my experience since I began to think myself a Christian? Or have I yet to know the happiness of serving God? If so, no wonder I am the creature of impulse, swayed to and fro by conflicting desires, and easily led wrong. But let the love of God once possess my heart, and soon will the love of sin be cast out. Then discretion will begin to discriminate, and understanding to choose the good. How to say “No” will have been learnt, and the chief perils of life escaped.

Thou who hast invited me to know and love Thyself, enable me to choose Thee, and Thee alone!

January 31st

Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.”—4:14, 15 (13:20).

Interpretation.—The advice is, not so much as to set thy foot on the path of the wicked or habitually vicious man. But if thou hast by any chance been thrown into it, then go not on. Avoid it with detestation, yea, avoid nearness to it, for the border-land of temptation is dangerous.

Illustrations.—Lot, Dinah, Solomon himself, and St. Peter, are all instances of the danger of rashly venturing into temptation. Moses escaped from evil associations by casting in his lot with God’s people. Daniel and his three friends avoided fellowship with idolaters, and kept themselves pure. It was the high praise given by the Lord to the Church of Ephesus, “Thou canst not bear them which are evil” (Rev. 2:2).

Application.—Avoidance of bad company is the highest wisdom; speedy withdrawal from it the next wisest step. He who is not afraid of temptation is not afraid of sin, and there is no foolhardiness so gross as this. I must remember that my heart is predisposed to evil. Were it not, how difficult, instead of easy, would it be to persuade me to it! In mercy God forbids the tampering with temptation, as He forbade our first parents even to touch the forbidden fruit. For do I not know that the very sight of many kinds of evil is seductive, and that to hear of the pleasures of sin whets the appetite for enjoying them? And is it not also certain that I am prone to fall into some offences more out of custom than out of love for them? It is difficult if not impossible to breathe a pestilential air, and not be infected. Hence my true wisdom surely is to keep out of and carefully avoid the path of the wicked. I may indeed not be able to avoid them altogether. They may cross my path. I may be thrown with them in my necessary business and daily life. I am not to go out of the world. But I shall need in that case the more prayer and watchfulness to be kept from the evil that is in the world. I must avoid all fellowship which hinders fellowship with God, and loosens the fast hold of instruction. And I must not forget that the world has its counterfeit religion, and is most dangerous when apparently least so.

May fellowship with Christ, through His holy Sacrament, keep me safe from the fellowship of the wicked![1]

 

 

[1] Pearson, C. R. (1880). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 1, pp. 1–31). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)

February

February 1st

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”—4:23.

Interpretation.—“Above all things that are to be guarded (above all keeping), keep thy heart. For out of it are the issues (flow the currents) of life.” As the heart is the physical center from which the blood which is the life is diffused, so is it the moral center of all our actions, the kernel of the man’s character, wherein all vital principles are lodged. Hence, let it be watched and guarded as the most precious of all possessions committed to his trust.

Illustrations.—Gideon’s pious rejection of the crown (Judg. 8:23) disclosed a heart guarded from ambition. Elisha showed himself proof against temptation to avarice, unlike his servant (2 Kings 5:5, 16, 20). Job was able to deny, as in God’s presence (31:7), that his heart had walked after his eyes, whether in the way of covetousness or of adultery. The Apostle Paul exercised himself to have “a conscience avoid of offence toward God and man” (Acts 24:16), which he could only do by watching over his heart. On the other hand, Hezekiah, left to himself, “that he might know all that was in his heart” (2 Chron. 32:31), found there a root of unsuspected arrogance and self-sufficiency. And the Apostle Peter, before his conversion, is an example of a man who knew not his own heart, and hence was slack to watch and pray.

Application.—That the natural heart is “enmity against God,” and needs renewal by His grace, is a certain truth. But no less certainly does it need unceasing vigilance when renewed. For God’s work does not supersede man’s agency; on the contrary, our efforts, rightly directed, are His instrumentality. Hence, while we are to commit the keeping of our souls to God (1 Pet. 4:19), we are also to work out our own salvation. Almighty God will bruise Satan, but it shall be under our feet. We cry, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” He answers, “Keep thy heart with all diligence.” Let me, then, as a Christian, not come behind that pious Jew who could affirm, “I hate vain thoughts.” For as the thoughts, so is the man; he who will not command his thoughts, will in time lose control of his actions. Now Jesus Himself teaches that out of the heart proceed evil thoughts (Matt. 15:19). Let me scrupulously examine my motives. For according to these “actions are weighed,” and these give its character to every action for good or for evil. Let me abstain from doing aught about which there may be a reasonable doubt. Specially must I question a line of action which chimes in with inclination or with the weak side of my character.

And do Thou, O God, so reveal me to myself, that I may know at what door and window of my heart to keep most guard!

February 2nd (Purification of B. V. M.)

He that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend.”—22:11.

Interpretation.—“Pureness” means sincerity, but the whole phrase here used means more than that in God’s Word. Heart-purity, as in God’s sight, is that lovely Christian virtue of which the sixth beatitude speaks. Here we have it combined with its outward expression, “whose is grace of speech.” Nothing more rare than to find a true heart coupled with pleasing speech, in courts. Such a courtier would deserve to be the king’s friend, or, if we explain it more generally, of such a one the friend is a king, can royally rejoice in and boast of him. Much more doth purity of heart, and its lovely “fruit of the lips,” attract the favor and (may we not say?) the friendship of the King of kings.

Illustrations.—Those illustrious, exiled youths who, amid the temptations of a royal court, refused to defile themselves, and whose speech was with grace, did they not in time become the trusted friends of the monarch? The godly and courageous Obadiah, did he not win the confidence even of an Ahab? But more, who was the beloved disciple, privileged above all others, who but John, whose early days were consecrated to that purity which other young men afterwards, at his lips, learnt to achieve (1 John 2:13)? Above all, for whom was reserved the highest honor granted to a human being, to be not only the friend but the Mother of the great King—for whom but for her who was pure of heart above all women, and very gracious of speech?

Application.—Certainly we cannot but observe that pureness of heart sheds a beautiful refinement over the whole character. In the less educated, as well as in the most highly, this is oftentimes the subject of remark. It extorts the admiration of the vicious. It puts impurity to flight. And yet it is only by comparison that the best Christian can be called pure, and who would dare to call himself so? He who is really pure of heart is before the Throne. Nevertheless, he who not only admires purity in others, but strives to become pure himself, he shall be called God’s child upon earth, and shall be taught the secrets of heaven. Never let me forget that even to the favor of an earthly sovereign sincerity, combined with gracefulness, is the best passport, unless he himself be despicable. How much more is that sincerity which is heart-pureness indeed, and the prompter of every good word, the sure way to the favor and friendship of Him Who is perfect purity Himself!

Jesus, my King, make me worthier of Thy love!

February 3rd

As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.”—11:22.

Interpretations.—The “jewel of gold” is the “golden nose-ring,” an ornament attached by Eastern women to the right nostril, and hanging down over the mouth. Such decoration of a swine would be ludicrously and painfully incongruous, and the ornament itself would be defiled and tarnished. A parallel case, says the proverb, is a woman adorned with beauty, which, for lack of judgment, tact, sense of propriety, it may be common modesty, she so misbecomes as to make it lamentable to behold.

Illustrations.—Dinah, Bathsheba, the Magdalene, were all possessed of beauty, which, far from redeeming, made more conspicuous their lack of chastity. The wanton and haughty daughters of Sion, with their “nose-jewels” and other bravery, are denounced (Isa. 3:16, etc.), and, as shameless ones, shame is to be their portion. How dearly did Solomon, Ahab, and Herod pay for having allied themselves with wives who doubtless were “fair women without discretion”! Abigail, on the contrary, had discretion as well as beauty (1 Sam. 25:33). And the Blessed Virgin Mary is a rare example of the lovely combination of both.

Application.—Personal beauty is one of God’s good gifts, not to be despised nor yet coveted, but, if bestowed, to set off a character which may attract to holiness. Should, however, the character be at variance with the countenance, or only lend enchantment to that which is evil, then, indeed, there is an incongruity both sad and glaring. Nay, loveliness of form or face, without good principle, without modesty, has been too often, as all history testifies, a mask for hypocrisy and a lure for vice. To those who look on, no more revolting sight can be imagined than beauty linked with sensuality. Parents should bring up their daughters to think less of looks and more of discretion. Young women should cultivate that feminine propriety of feeling and behavior, without which beauty, in the eyes of the best judges, loses all its charm. It should be remembered that, as time goes on, outward attractions must wither, but the graces of the character will endure. Who more wretched than a faded, mindless, unrespected beauty! And who more pitiable than the young man dragged through the mire by the bewitching bond of a fair face, which has proved but a swine’s nose-jewel! On the other hand, what more admirable than a pure, meek, quiet spirit, “above all price” in any case, but, framed in a becoming frame, as winsome as it is precious!

February 4th

He that walketh uprightly walketh surely: but he that perverteth his ways shall be known.”—10:9.

Interpretation.—To walk uprightly is to act habitually in an honest downright way upon good principles, avoiding tortuous paths and all maneuvering. Such a man enjoys a comfortable feeling of security, having nothing to fear; and moreover, arrives at his ends most readily, because most directly. Whereas he who adopts disingenuous methods to compass his purposes or to conceal his misdoings, will ultimately fail in both respects, and be revealed in his true character.

Illustrations.—Jacob, circumventing his aged father, did not walk uprightly, and years of anxiety and peril followed upon the exposure of his craftiness. Achan had his cunningly devised scheme for enriching himself soon brought to light, and its utter failure proclaimed. From the face of Ananias and of his wife how speedily was the mask of hypocrisy torn! Even the Apostle Peter once sought to gain good ends by dissimulation (Gal. 2:11, etc.), and drew others along with him in a path-way that was not sure. Whereas the straightforwardness of St. Paul both established the truth of the Gospel and delivered his own soul.

Application.—How often one is tempted to confound subtlety with wisdom, and to expect to arrive at success rather by indirect ways than by straightforward ones! Whereas the highest authority testifies that upright simplicity is the deepest wisdom, and perverse craft the merest shallowness. It is also true that he who pursues good ends honestly attains them the most surely. There is always peril of a fall in indirect or crooked action. For the term “upright,” as applied to morals, is a very true figure of speech. There is an attitude of soul which corresponds to the erect position of the body, and this is by far the safest. A stooping posture, a shuffling, uneven, sidelong gait creates an unsteadiness which an enemy may with ease take advantage of. And so the tortuous schemer is (how often!) foiled by apparent trifles just in the moment of presumed success, Or, let him succeed in his wrong-doing, he finds himself discovered through a rent in his best-woven veil. But do I ask of God, “Show me a sure path”? His Word answers, yea, doth not conscience return answer to itself, “Keep innocency, and take heed to the thing that is right, for that shall bring a man peace at the last”?

O Thou most upright, make me like Thyself!

February 5th

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.”—6:6 (20:4; 30:25).

Interpretation.—The example set by the ant is in seizing the opportunity. By voluntary, well-planned, unwearied labor it gathers food at the times when food is to be had. In warmer climates than ours it lays up food against the winter. Thus, to an observant mind, it gives a striking lesson against neglect and indolence. The sluggard who laid to heart that lesson would surely become wise.

Illustrations.—For lack of thought and energy, the generation to whom Noah preached lost their opportunity of being saved as he was. “Abundance of idleness” prevented the people of Sodom from profiting by Lot’s example and warnings. Jonah, from sluggishness of comprehension, not recognizing God’s purpose, almost lost the harvest he was sent to reap in Nineveh. On the other hand, how prompt was Zacchæus, how persevering Mary of Bethany, in profiting by the golden opportunity of the Savior’s presence! How earnestly and systematically did the Apostles and first ministers of the Church “redeem the time,” being “not slothful in business,” that they might “make full proof of their ministry,” and win souls to Christ!

Application.—Life itself is the opportunity upon which eternity depends. And during life opportunities more or less are given every one for laying up provision against the future. The periods of education, of apprenticeship, of probation in any business, are among these. Still more important are seasons of special awakening, grace, and edification, for the soul’s well-being. Oh, let me consider these—reflect upon their priceless value, and be wise to turn them to good account! Knowledge hived in early days, good habits formed, religious tastes acquired, the love of God cultivated,—how good to possess all these! Whereas if I indulge in sloth, and let my opportunities slip by, I lose all these for ever. Even the loss of some earthly gain, through idleness, neglect, or delay, is a shame and a disgrace. I prove myself less wise than the little ant by incurring such. But what if I lose my soul, and Christ, and heaven, through the growing habit of procrastination—“a little more sleep, a little more slumber”—till I wake at the archangel’s trump, to find myself lost without remedy?

O God, preserve me from such fatal sloth, and make me wise in time for myself and for others also!

February 6th

A prating fool shall fall.”—10:8, 10 (14:23).

Interpretation.—“A fool of the lips shall fall prostrate,” in other words, shall prove an utter failure. The contrast is twofold. First, with “the wise in heart.” Such a one is described as receptive of the commandments. Whereas the other, instead of taking in, is always giving out, and oh, how empty in consequence! Secondly, with one “who winketh with the eye.” Such a one is a secret, crafty worker of mischief. The more open mischief-maker is to be preferred, but he too shall come to nought. In brief, whether the habit of prating injures oneself only or others also, it tendeth to penury and so to ruin.

Illustrations.—The proud boasting of Korah and his company, how did it end but in their complete downfall? The vulgar insolence of Shimei, did it not return upon his own head? The Pharisees, did their boasted righteousness avail them before Him who knows what is in man? Diotrephes, and the “mockers” and “murmurers” of St. Peter (2 Epist. 2:10) and St. Jude’s (10; 13) day, what have they left behind them but the memory of failure and of disgrace? Out of his own mouth shall the slothful and self-justifying servant be judged.

Application.—The world abounds with characters such as here described. But that is no reason why I should add myself to the number. There are those who, wise in their own conceit, talk loudly and confidently upon matters beyond their knowledge and comprehension—exposing themselves to rebuke and shame. Let me be more ready to hear than to speak, and even where most competent express my opinion modestly. There are those who have much to tell about others, whether true or not, who freely animadvert upon their neighbors, and think by arrogant bluster to exalt themselves. Sooner or later they are detected as inaccurate or malicious, and despised as purveyors of gossip or of slander. Let me say as little as possible about others, unless what I say is in their favor. There are those whose prating is of religion, mere lip-knowledge, or controversy, or criticism. From such a habit may I be enabled to keep free, knowing that no talk of the lips tendeth more to penury, to the utter impoverishment, yea, starving of the spiritual life, than such unreal profession, such heartless prating.

And oh, do Thou, who createst the fruit of the lips, make mine fruitful in good words, that I fall not!

February 7th

Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins.”—10:12.

Interpretation.—“Hatred,” which is the opposite to love, and, indeed, the absence of love (1 John 3:14, 15), provokes to strife and revives its dying embers. But love “covereth,” by overlooking, forgiving, and especially by not exposing needlessly the transgressions of others. St. James and St. Peter both quote this proverb. St. James (5:20) asserts that he who converts a sinner from the error of his ways does thereby hide or cover over a multitude of his sins from the eyes of a just God, inasmuch as through conversion they become pardoned. St. Peter (4:8) applies it to the effect of mutual charity, which will hide from one another’s eyes the faults on either side.

Illustrations.—How delicately did Joseph cover over his brethren’s crime against himself, when he spoke of having been “stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews” (Gen. 40:15)! And again, how he seems to excuse it by saying to them, “So now, it was not you that sent me hither, but God” (14:8)! David, in the dirge pronounced by him over Saul, put all his great faults out of sight. St. Paul, by converting Onesimus, procured for him the pardon of his transgressions, both at the hands of his heavenly and also of his earthly master.

Application.—What the microscope reveals in a drop of water is true of the inhabitants of this larger world. Mutual strife is prevalent. Take love out of the world, and there would be nothing else but contentions. “Hateful and hating one another” is the natural character of men apart from the grace of God. Now hatred calls forth hatred, and incites man against man. There is an inclination (have I not felt it?) in the human breast, not only to revenge oneself, but to help on instead of allaying strife between others. A word will often do either, and how often is the word spoken provocative rather than soothing! But surely this cannot be in accordance with the mind of Christ Himself, the Prince of Peace, who pronounces a blessing upon the peacemakers. How much better to imitate Him, who not only forgave His murderers, but made excuse for them that they knew not what they did! Can any offence against me be compared with what He endured at the hands of sinners? Can I be His disciple and take pleasure in those angry passions He rebuked by word and by example?

Oh that I may know more and more of that love which will take a brother’s failings to the throne of grace, throwing over them before the world’s eye the cloak of charity!

February 8th

He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.”—10:4.

Interpretation.—The contrast is between one who does what he has to do with a “slack” hand, i.e. lazily, and one who is sharp and pains-taking about his work. The first may be expected to fail and to become poor, while the other may reasonably hope for success and a competency. The same holds good also of indolence and earnestness in the spiritual life.

Illustrations.—Jacob’s diligence in Laban’s service coupled with prudence, and with God’s blessing added thereto, led to his “increasing exceedingly” (Gen. 31:36, etc., 30:29, etc.). Whereas of the slothful man, an eye-witness reported (Prov. 24:30, etc.) that his very property was falling into decay. Spiritual favors, too, the Lord’s visits, are not bestowed upon loiterers, but upon Moses and the shepherds of Bethlehem while keeping their flocks, upon Gideon at work in his threshing-floor. Idleness laid the inhabitants of the cities of the plain open to gross temptations (Ezek. 16:49). Nehemiah, fully engaged in his great work, had a sufficient reply to the tempter (Neh. 6:3).

Application.—The Lord maketh rich, but labor is the ordinance in which He will reveal His blessing. Would a father be made glad in his son?—let him bring him up to industry. Prudence and sober work will enable a young man “to requite his parents.” Would a young man prosper in life?—let him not allow his hands to hang down listlessly, but do whatsoever his hand findeth to do with his might (Eccles. 9:10). Nothing is more true than that “if you do not wait on your business, your business will not wait on you.” The secret of success in the world is, as a rule, diligence, in other words, doing your work con amore. Industry was the law in paradise without the thorns; and since then the curse, by demanding labor, has been overruled for man’s benefit and happiness. The rule applies alike to the business of life and the concerns of the soul. He who would gain in godliness must put his heart into the business, and he who does so will assuredly grow rich in spiritual gifts. The fruits of labor are not gained by wishing, but by laboring. The tender plant of grace will not thrive in a sluggard’s garden. On the other hand, to be idle is ordinarily to be vicious. Our idle days are Satan’s busy days. “The hand in the bosom” will not lay hold of eternal life. Sloth is the mother of poverty—and that worst poverty—of the soul. Whereas diligence in the Christian life leads to godliness, and godliness is true riches.

February 9th

The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot.”—10:7.

Interpretation.—The comparison seems to be with two trees—the one remaining fresh and green, while the other becomes worm-eaten and decayed. How pleasant and fragrant is the first! How offensive and repellant the second!

Illustrations.—Fragrant is the good report of the elders enumerated by St. Paul (Heb. 11). Blessed the memory of the godly parent, the “excellent woman” (Prov. 31:28); of the righteous king, such as Josiah for whom all Israel mourned (2 Chron. 35:24); of the public benefactor such as Jehoiada (2 Chron. 24:16); of the self-denying Christian whose deed of love to the Lord is immortalized in the Gospel; of the charitable Dorcas and centurion, whose acts of beneficence drew forth the gratitude of their contemporaries, and still are held up for imitation. On the other hand, how have the names of Cain, of Absalom, of Judas, been execrated by all mankind! How lasting the stigma attached to the name Jeroboam! How very far from fragrant are the associations with the memory of such wicked people as Balaam, Jezebel and Ahab, Haman, Ananias and his wife, Simon Magus!

Application.—A good name among men is one of the excellent gifts of God. But it is not bestowed upon the unworthy. All men desire it (do not I myself?), and out of this natural craving a motive springs, not strong enough indeed to make a bad man good, but yet to diminish the force of wickedness. Who would not rather be remembered than forgotten, be well spoken of than ill, after death? But if I live an aimless, useless life, what should hinder my name being at once consigned to oblivion? If I do mischief in my time, and live wickedly, shall I not be remembered with scorn? Only if I live to God, and do real good in my generation, can I hope that my memory will be blessed. Yea, purer blessings will come upon me than while I lived, for malice and calumny will touch me no more. Christ’s “name is as ointment poured forth,” and those who are in Him partake of its fragrance. God cannot but delight in “the beauty of holiness,” in Him who is “fairer than the sons of men,” in all who are in Him. So, then, it rests not with man to embalm the reputation of the true Christian. God will take care that his name be “had in everlasting remembrance.” And yet—such is free will—I may choose whether I will be remembered to my praise or shame.

Help me, O my God, to make the better choice!

February 10th

In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.”—10:19 (13:3; 17:27, 28).

Interpretation.—Taciturnity and discretion in speech are here, as elsewhere, recommended. “Sin” is “transgression of the law,” and, in much speaking, how many a law, e.g. of truth, love, purity, is apt to be broken! To refrain the lips, to be habitually silent rather than loquacious, very cautious in speech, and watchful against sins of the tongue,—this is a fruit of true religion, which, indeed, is true wisdom.

Illustrations.—How piously discreet was the silence preserved by Aaron when judgment overtook his two sons (Lev. 10:3)! How politically discreet was Saul’s silence when ill-affected subjects “brought him no presents” (1 Sam. 10:27)! Job, and still more, his three friends, would have done well to have spoken less, for they spake unadvisedly with their lips. Of eleven Apostles, as St. Peter spoke most, so he erred most in speaking. Good was the advice given by Joab to Ahimaaz, “Wherefore wilt thou run, my son, seeing that thou hast no tidings ready?” (2 Sam. 18:22). And well would it be for the Church, and for themselves, if all women would lay to heart St. Paul’s advice to them not to be “tattlers and busybodies, speaking things they ought not” (1 Tim. 5:13).

Application.—Speech, which the Psalmist calls “my glory,” was given us both to glorify our Maker and to benefit our neighbors. And no gift is so precious or so useful, if only employed aright. What a pity, then, to change an instrument of good into one of evil! But this I do if I indulge in “vain babbling,” still more if I wound or defile with my tongue. Now, a great talker is certain to say both foolish and faulty things. He will often forget the maxim, “Think before you speak.” But how necessary is the observance of this in acts of worship, in mixed society, in conversations which take place in private! What irreverence, what slander, what boastfulness, ay, what a multitude of sins, would thus be avoided! Let me remember that to talk on incessantly is, as a rule, not a sign of fulness, but of emptiness. That conversation ought not to be merely an exercise of the tongue, but of the higher faculties. That light words weigh heavy in God’s balance against us, but words well weighed beforehand will generally be reckoned to our advantage. There is “a time” also “to keep silence.” He who knows not when to be silent knows not when to speak. And how much wiser is it to hold one’s tongue than to say what we shall wish unsaid! Have I not oftener repented of saying too much than too little?

February 11th

My son, attend to My words; incline thine ear to My sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.”—4:20–22.

Interpretation.—The instruction alluded to is against evil companionship. The advice here given is not to forget or forsake it. The encouragement held out is that it will be good for body as well as soul to observe it. For such admonitions, if kept constantly in view, if really laid to heart, will bring increase of life to those who attain unto them, and to their whole body “healing.”

Illustrations.—To the Rechabites, observant of their father’s injunctions to a sober and ascetic life, came the literal fulfilment of the promise attached to the fifth commandment, in the perpetuity of their race. Health of body, as well as special gifts of another kind, was the reward of those four noble youths who, thrown among evil companions, would not defile themselves by idolatrous or sensual habits. Absalom, on the other hand, certainly shortened his life by his unfilial rebellion and association with evil counsellors. Whereas David’s bodily health, impaired by grief of heart, was restored by peace of conscience (Ps. 32). And is it not as true now as formerly, that, “Godliness hath promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come”?

Application.—How touchingly does God appeal to every motive by which a human soul can be won! Nothing comes home so closely to most men as their health. Specially is a young man apt to desire strength that he may not lag behind others in the race for worldly success. Well, this manual of inspired wisdom frequently holds out the promise of a sound body to those who observe its rules of virtue and piety. Nothing (it teaches us) is more calculated to preserve both soul and body in a healthy state than obedience to the laws of God. For what is more conducive to the maintenance of a sound mind in a sound body, than sobriety, temperance, regularity of life, yea, self-denial and godly discipline in moderation? Moreover, what so sure to promote that tranquility and evenness of temper, which are eminently favorable to health and length of life, as peace with God and with man, which is the fruit of true religion? False views of Christian doctrine or practice may induce melancholy, but not the truth as handed down by the Church. Yea, life in its highest sense, the quintessence and marrow of its joys, is only to be found in Him who came to renew our decaying nature by uniting it with Himself. Grace and nature combine when their laws are observed to perfect the man of God.

February 12th

The ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He pondereth all his goings. His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins.”—5:21, 22.

Interpretation.—The Lord is said to “ponder,” or rather, to “mark out,” to “tread” or “travel” over all the ways of man. At every step and stage of his journey, man is observed and encompassed by Jehovah. Retribution is set in motion by the act of sin, and those repeated acts which form habits become a net and cords to snare and to bind the wicked withal.

Illustrations.—The author of Ps. 139 had a vivid sense of the nearness and omniscience of God, and of the practical use of such truths. Holy Scripture abounds with teachings on the subject drawn from real history. We find Cain’s downcast looks noticed by his Maker, and the murderer convicted. The intentions and motions of the Babel-builders are scrutinized and intercepted from heaven. Their “idleness” as well as flagrant viciousness is taken note of in the race of the inhabitants of Sodom (Ezek. 16:49). Balaam’s covetousness, Uzziah’s irreverence, Belshazzar’s profanity, Nathanael’s private meditations, Ananias and his wife’s conspiracy,—all are before the eyes of the Lord. And who does not see in the story of Adoni-bezek, of Joab, of Haman, of Elymas, not to speak of others, clear tokens of a law of retribution, which will not suffer sinners to escape?

Application.—We shrink from an avowed atheist, but is not un-avowed, practical atheism far more common than is supposed? May it not lurk in the breast of one who imagines himself to be a Christian? So far indeed as any heart remains unrenewed by grace, it is infected with this subtle unbelief. This lay at the root of the first sin, and this alone will account for every willful sin committed since the first. “God is not in all” (i.e. in any) “of the thoughts” of the persistent transgressor, otherwise fear, if no higher motive, would restrain him. For if I believe God’s own revelations of Himself, I cannot doubt, not only that He is a spectator of all my actions, but also that He views them with the interest of a Father, and the discriminating severity of a Judge. To suppose that I shall escape His observation is either to question His omniscience or His government. But the evidence which proves that He at times interposes in a particular and special way to punish Sin, is as unquestionable as the law of retribution. And whereas he that sins against man may fear discovery, he who sins against God is sure of it, and equally of punishment to follow.

February 13th

He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbor: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace.”—11:12.

Interpretation.—By a slight transposition the antithesis in this proverb is better expressed. “He that speaketh contemptuously of his neighbor lacketh wisdom.” “A man of understanding is one who has too much self-knowledge to exalt himself above his neighbor as a judge.” Silence, except from modest and prudent words, is the best self-defense. The folly and risk of contumelious words is here implied.

Illustrations.—David and his eldest brother exhibit a contrast in this respect, the one provoking to wrath with his tongue, the other holding his peace (1 Sam. 17:28–30). Shimei, with his injurious words, prepared a rod for his own back. The men of Ephraim, in like manner, put a scourge into the hands of the Gileadites when they reproached them so proudly (Judg. 12). On the other hand, how effectually did the calm, wise words of St. Paul “preserve him” in scenes of tumult and under false accusation! The cases of Job’s friends, of Hannah’s foes, of the Pharisees with Jesus, are also instances in point.

Application.—Here we have a rule which combines worldly wisdom with heavenly. Who that has any self-respect would not wince under the exposure of his own spite or folly? Well, then, this fear alone might restrain me from using derisive or scornful language towards my neighbor, from passing arrogant criticisms upon him. By doing this I court criticism myself, and invite a severe judgment. The spirit of self-defense in the party attacked, of fair play in others on his behalf, is roused. I must expect to be called upon to prove my words or to eat them. Whatever ignorance, or inaccuracy, or want of logic I may have betrayed, will be mercilessly exposed, and my own faults and foibles dragged to light. This is but fair, and, though I may escape nine times, is sure to be my fate at last. Besides which, I must needs gain enemies and lose friends through such a habit, and be accounted a dangerous member of society. Such considerations might of themselves have weight in favor of a modest reserve in speech over a boastful or indiscreet loquacity. But a higher motive for the Christian is our Savior’s golden rule, and the example of Him who was meek and lowly. The more I know myself by comparison with Him, the less shall I be inclined to sit in judgment upon others. The less I trust to myself, the more sure I am that He will give me a mouth and wisdom in the day of trial.

Then, O God, teach me to know mine own heart, that, judging myself aright, I may not be judged!

February 14th

A tale-bearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.”—11:13.

Interpretation.—“A tale-bearer” or “a slanderer,” for how closely slander and tittle-tattling are allied (comp. 25:9, 10)! With the slanderer is contrasted the faithful and reliable man; with the tattler the man who concealeth the matter. The caution is against entrusting our secrets to any one of whose thorough reliability we are not assured.

Illustrations.—The conduct of Doeg the Edomite is an example of the mischief that may be done by a tongue that deviseth mischief (1 Sam. 21; 22; Ps. 52). It may indeed have been his duty to report to the king his master what he saw and heard, but he should not have kept back the important fact that Ahimelech had been imposed upon by David, and had acted as he did under the impression that David was about Saul’s business. Partial truth is a dangerous form of slander, as those tell-tales well knew who quoted against our blessed Lord His own words imperfectly (comp. Matt. 26:61; John 2:19). David himself afterwards suffered from the treachery of a bosom friend, though not blamelessly if (as is supposed) Ahitophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba. Nehemiah seems to have had traitors in his court, nobles of Judah who uttered his words to Tobiah (Neh. 6:19). Jeremiah observed a prudent reserve, when entrusted with the king’s secret (38:24–27); but we may not blame Joseph who divulged his brother’s evil doings.

Application.—The devil, as his name teaches, is a slanderer, and goeth to and fro in the earth collecting matter that he may accuse men before God. Doubtless from him also proceeds that disposition to make mischief with the tongue which has always betrayed itself in human nature. The motives for tale-bearing are various, and include vanity, love of mischief, spite. The ways of tale-bearing are numerous, and comprise open blabbing, confidential communications, sly insinuation. A compound of weakness and wickedness is the social tell-tale usually, and, like a traveler who brings the plague in his garments, cannot be too carefully fought shy of. I may, as a rule, effectually discourage such a one by refusing to hear his tales, and this, remembering that he who blabs my neighbor’s secrets to me will surely blab mine to another. Let me beware that I fall not into this habit myself. The grace of God will preserve me: but he who has no bridle on his tongue has never much grace in his heart. Let me choose friends and servants on whose discretion and honor I can rely, and not trust them beyond their power. To hear no evil of a friend; to speak none of an enemy; to believe not all I hear, nor speak all I know;—these are good rules both to be observed and taught.

February 15th

The Lord hateth … a proud look.”—6:17.

Interpretation.—Of seven things which are hateful to Jehovah, pride stands the first, because it may be said to be the mother of all sins. Through pride the devil himself fell into condemnation, and tempted man to his fall. “A proud look” or “haughty eyes” is the index of a proud heart, and hence displeasing to Him who dwells with the humble heart, to Him who, as man, said of Himself, “I am meek and lowly in heart.”

Illustrations.—Eliab, David’s eldest brother, was doubtless lordly in countenance as he was in disposition, and the Lord refused him, for the Lord looketh on the heart (1 Sam. 16:6, 7). Nebuchadnezzar, casting proud glances over Babylon which he had built, was humbled to the very beasts of the field, till he “lifted up his eyes to heaven,” and owned Jehovah as King of kings. The publican, with downcast look, was preferred to the Pharisee, one of that generation with “lofty eyes,” who say, “Stand back, for I am holier than thou” on whom our Lord bestowed His most scathing rebukes, and poured forth His denunciations of “woe.”

Application.—Strange as it may seem, what God hates man too often admires. The curled lip, flashing eye, and head thrown back with air of disdainful command,—how grand it all seems! A plain proof that man’s thoughts are not God’s thoughts, for He hates it all. Who indeed would depict an angel with haughty look? Who does not picture the blessed Jesus to himself as the very opposite to proud in aspect and in bearing? But after all, it is the heart God looks at through the countenance. It is the pride that lurks there, betraying itself in the outer man, which moves His indignation—pride of birth, of rank, of wealth, of intellect, of self-righteousness. Surely the best corrective of such pride is to be found in the contemplation of Jesus. Think of Sis rank, and yet He “emptied Himself” to become a servant. Think of His wealth, yet He had not where to lay His head. Think of His intellect, yet He submitted as man to be ignorant of things He knew as God from all eternity. Think of His righteousness, yet He kept company with publicans and sinners, and stood in our place and suffered the penalty of our guilt. O proud man, think how unlike the Son of man thou art! Contrast your thoughts towards your inferiors with His towards you. Reflect what had been your fate, had not God come to visit us lost ones in great humility. Consider what your fate must be, if now you scorn one made in His image, and trample upon one He came to raise. “The proud” God “knoweth afar off,” will keep an immeasurable distance from Himself.

February 16th

God hateth … a lying tongue, (and) a false witness that speaketh lies.”—6:17, 19.

Interpretation.—There is no difficulty in these words. Perhaps a more literal translation would be “one that breatheth lies as a false witness.” The two clauses comprehend every species of falsehood as being hateful to God.

Illustrations.—God’s displeasure against lying is seen occasionally in direct, more often in indirect punishment of the liar, and is expressed by severe threatenings to be fulfilled in the next world if not in this. Thus Gehazi, Ananias, and Sapphira, stand out as monuments of judgment following close upon lies told in the pursuit of covetous ends and aims. Rebekah and Jacob and the old prophet of Bethel, though not directly punished, lived to reap in bitterness of heart the consequence of their false words. The lying prophets, Pashur, Hananiah, Ahab, Zedekiah, Shemaiah (in Jeremiah’s time, 20; 28; 29), and Amaziah (in the time of Amos, 7), had signal judgment executed upon them by the word of the Lord. The instigators of Naboth’s death through false witness, how memorable was their fate! With what confusion were the flattering lies of Saul to David, of Sanballat and his party to Nehemiah, of the Pharisees and Herodians to our blessed Lord, crowned! How terrible the judgment denounced against liars in the world to come (Rev. 22:8)!

Application.—God hateth a lie, because it is repugnant to His nature, injurious to His government, and hurtful to His children. It is characteristic of Satan that he is a liar and a slanderer, and to resemble him is to become the opposite of God. To violate truth with the tongue is to pervert that noble gift of speech which is man’s “glory.” To call God to witness to a lie is to directly insult Him and frustrate equity in His name. We may indeed admit of shades of untruthfulness, all dark enough, though not equally dark. Thus there are lies which may be termed strategic and political, such as it is supposed are allowable in war, in kingcraft, in diplomacy. There are lies of romance, to give piquancy to conversation or interest to an individual. There are the condoned lies current in social intercourse—the lies justified in commercial competition—the lies by which petty faults are concealed or excused. Call it by what name you will, however, a lie, the essence of which is the intention to deceive, is hateful to God. And if I am a sincere disciple of Him who is “the Truth,” and have “put off the old man,” it will be my aim and prayer to be as true as God is, and to shun lying as (according to His Word) one of the deadly sins.

February 17th

Forsake not the law of thy mother.”—6:20.

Interpretation.—The young man is exhorted, in view of temptations to impurity, not to forsake or depart from the instruction of his mother imparted to him in earlier days. The father’s commandments and the mother’s instructions are both to be perpetually borne in mind—as a signet or an amulet worn round the neck, to guard against forgetfulness and danger; and perhaps the gentler counsels of the mother will both second and fortify the severer injunctions of the father.

Illustrations.—No more notable example than Joseph can be found of a young man resisting the particular temptation here alluded to, under peculiarly trying circumstances. And doubtless, to his father’s teaching and his mother’s influence (for that Joseph enjoyed as a boy) it was owing that, in the ordeal through which he passed, his God was present to his thoughts, and he could not sin. In the biographies of the kings of Israel and Judah, we find the mother’s name repeatedly mentioned, and then significantly follows the summing up of the character of the king—“he did good” or “he did evil in the sight of the Lord.” We know what the teaching and example of such a mother as Eunice did for Timothy, who, being one of those young men who had “overcome the wicked one,” was raised to a position where it would be eminently needful to keep himself pure (1 Tim. 5:22).

Application.—The advice here given applies to mothers as well as to sons. For it is assumed that what the mother instils is God’s Word dwelling in her own heart. The Christian mother travails again till her child be born to the Lord. As a nursing mother she becomes the channel through which the “milk of the Word” flows into the child’s soul. How tremendous the responsibility of an influence which, at the pliant time of childhood, is potent for good or for evil—and that for eternity! Surely a mother should be much with her children from earliest days, and not devolve their care upon others! Then she may hope to maintain her place as her son’s friend through life, and never lose her hold upon him. And the son—what young man who has known the pure and loving influence of a mother, and drunk in her wise and pious counsels in his early youth, will readily throw it off and set them at nought? It must be much harder to take a bold leap into vice when held back by such sacred associations. Will not the echo of the mother’s voice, the recollection of the mother’s eye, bid syren forms of shameless sin avaunt?

Ever be the law of my mother who gave me birth, and of the Church who adopted me, my rule and safeguard through life!

February 18th

Blessed is the man that heareth Me, watching daily at My gates, waiting at the posts of My doors.”—8:34.

Interpretation.—It is Wisdom who speaks, appearing here in the style of an Eastern sovereign. At her palace gates the most importunate suitors watch and wait, that they may seize the first opportunity for an interview. Happy they who, thus earnestly seeking, find life and favor at the hands of Jesus, “the Wisdom of God”!

Illustrations.—How wise, how blessed were the aged Simeon and Anna, to whom, watching in the Temple courts, “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” Jesus was revealed, among the very first! Did not Mary of Bethany, by sitting persistently at His feet, acquire from His lips that “better part,” which is only theirs who are content to watch and wait? The eager and energetic suit of a Zacchæus snatched, as it were, salvation in a day. Health, bodily and also (may we not believe?) spiritual, was granted to the persevering efforts of that impotent man (how strong in faith!) who strove for so many years to bathe first in Bethesda’s pool. The Ethiopian nobleman and the Bereans found wisdom in their unwearied Scripture search. Why should Christians be less willing than God’s people of old to wait, whether as priests (Exod. 29:42) or as laity, at the doors of the Temple (Luke 1:10) for the assured blessing?

Application.—How eager they are who have their worldly interests at heart, and who look for favors at Court or at the hands of great people! How willing to wait in the ante-chambers, to watch for the unbarring of the gates! For a pardon, for life, yes, even for a pension, what labors, what humiliations will they not undergo! And shall I be less earnest about what concerns my whole being in the present and in the future? Have I not to seek remission of the penalty of eternal death, unless, indeed, I have already obtained absolution? Do I not need—ah! how can I live without the perpetual favor of my God? Let me be instant, then, in the use of the ordained means of grace There are gates which will unfold, doors which will open and disclose to me, if on the look out, Him whom my soul seeketh. In prayerful meditation upon and study of God’s Word; in daily frequenting (where possible) of the services of the Church; above all, in frequent and early resort to Holy Communion, I may hope to find Jesus, and to be found of Him. Unwearied diligence and patient expectation in the way of Christian duty cannot long fail of their desired end. Wisdom’s child, familiar with Wisdom’s gate, will find Him “in whose favor is life.” And “blessed” shall be his eyes and his ears!

February 19th

The tongue of the just is as choice silver: the heart of the wicked is little worth. The lips of the righteous feed many: but fools die for want of wisdom.”—10:20, 21.

Interpretation.—“Choice silver,” tried in a furnace and purified seven times, indicates a very great value. Thus in 8:19, it is put in apposition with “fine gold.” “The heart of the wicked” is contrasted with “the tongue of the just,” inasmuch as “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” And this is here compared to dross or refuse. Again, a striking contrast is implied between the wise who, out of their stores of wisdom, impart to others, and the fools who absolutely die for lack of wisdom.

Illustrations.—Of Job it was testified by one who had known him in his palmy days, “Behold, thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands.” And Job himself looked back with pardonable satisfaction on the days when men had waited for his words “as the rain,” yea, as for “the latter rain” (4:3; 29:21, 22). To Elihu it was given to speak precious words to the disconsolate and bewildered patriarch. David was chosen to feed God’s people with the wisdom God imparted to him (Ps. 78:71, 72)—a type of “the good Shepherd” and of His under-shepherds (Acts 20:28). Abigail and Nathan are further illustrations of the wise in heart, bringing forth “out of its treasure” things good as “choice silver.” Whereas, they who have rejected “the wisdom of God,” “professing themselves wise, have become fools,” and have not fed others—as the scribes and Pharisees of old allowed the people to “faint like sheep having no shepherd” (Matt. 9:36)—and themselves have perished as “despisers” (Acts 13:41) “for want of wisdom.”

Application.—Again and again does the wise man revert to the power of the tongue for good or for evil. And this is a power the poorest may wield. “As poor, yet making many rich.” I may say to my brother, “Silver and gold have I none,” and yet give him that which is as “choice silver”—a word of comfort, a word of exhortation. “The priest’s lips should (specially) keep knowledge,” but he has no monopoly of the “wisdom which God giveth to all men (who ask it) liberally,” that they may also give of it to others. Not talent but a wise heart is needed to this end. The most brilliant conversational powers, unseasoned with grace, will fail of it. The scoffer, though he be a genius, is also a fool, and will perish in his folly. Some surgical instruments are made of silver, for it will not poison the blood. Oh, what need of a tongue like silver, to turn away wrath, to probe my brother’s wound, to speak the truth in love!

February 20th

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”—1:7.

Interpretation.—These words form a motto, as it were, shadowing forth the teaching of this Book. For by “the fear of the Lord” (so often referred to) is meant true religion. It comprehends all the principles of godliness. It is the basis, or root, of knowledge. There is no true knowledge without it. But fools, the (spiritually) hardened and stupid, despise the wisdom and “discipline” which come through fear of the Lord, and so long as this is their habit, fools they must remain.

Illustrations.—How wise was Abraham, who brought up his family “to keep the way of the Lord” (Gen. 18:19); and Isaac, who followed on in that way! Good was the advice of Jethro, who would have only men “such as fear God” (Exod. 18:21) appointed to places of authority. Timothy, brought up on those principles, was in a position to keep that which was committed to his trust against “oppositions of science falsely so called” (1 Tim. 6:20). Hophni and Phinehas betrayed an utter absence of the fear of the Lord when they made the priest’s office an occasion of scandal. How pitiable was their boast of knowledge, those Greek philosophers to whom the cross of Christ was “foolishness”! How real their knowledge is to whom that cross has become “the power of God unto salvation”!

Application.—Let me be sure of this, that until I know God I know nothing. Whereas, to know Him comprehends all knowledge. But how can I attain to know Him who is so infinitely above His creatures? The Word teaches me that “the fear of the Lord” is the first step towards so high an attainment; that out of religious practice spiritual light comes. Would I achieve that best education for heaven, I must begin by (with God’s help) putting away all willful sin, and aiming at holiness. Thus the soul will be purged and prepared for the instruction which takes of the things of God and reveals them unto man. This is the first lesson to be learnt in youth, for until this is learnt life will be misspent. Oh, let me set before me the truth, so little recognized, that “The fear of God is the whole of man,”—all his duty, all his happiness, his first lesson and his last. Without this the highest attainments are folly. “An undevout astronomer is mad.” “Science without God is falsely called science.” To ignore Him is the part of fools. To despise His teaching and discipline is the height of folly. We see what it must be by putting an extreme case. Were there no fear of God, there would be no moral law, and the world would relapse into savagery, in spite of its philosophy.

Oh then, my soul, be thou in the fear of the Lord all through this day of life; so shalt thou attain to know God!

February 21st

He (the Lord) layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous. He is a buckler to them that walk uprightly.”—2:7.

Interpretation.—The word rendered “sound wisdom” contains in itself the idea of “promotion,” and may include prosperity along with wisdom. This the Lord is said to lay up, i.e. to preserve as a jewel, a treasure, is preserved. But for whom? For those only whose hearts are upright towards Him. In like manner, He is “a shield,” or “buckler,”—to protect whom? “Them that walk blamelessly—pilgrims of innocence.” Among ourselves these promises belong to those only who are living the life of faith in Christ.

Illustrations.—In Abraham, who “walked with God,” these promises were fulfilled by anticipation. To him the promise was made and signally fulfilled, “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” Solomon, while he walked uprightly, was lavishly endowed with both wisdom and honor—above all other men. But when his heart was turned away from God, the shield was removed which had protected him. What promotion to honor, what preservation from danger, what sound wisdom, were granted to the God-fearing Daniel and his three friends! To the Apostles and Christians following in their steps, the “mouth and wisdom” not to be gainsaid have been accorded in the hour of peril.

Application.—In a world like ours, so full of dangers secret as well as open, who must not feel his need of more than human sagacity to pass safely through life’s journey? Who must not recognize the value of a shield-bearer going before him (1 Sam. 17:7, 41)? Now, the Lord Jesus Himself offers me both. In Him “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” so safe, no spoiler can reach them; so free, every sinner can have access to them. These treasures He dispenses through the ministry of His Word, and in the sacred mysteries of His grace. The object is to make me righteous, and if I, resorting to Him continually for all needful help, do really strive to walk holily according to my measure of wisdom, I may be sure of its being added to out of His fulness. And then He will be also my shield and buckler to protect me from every foe. He will shield me against the “fiery darts of the wicked” one, the sophistries of error, and the machinations of designing men. I have His promise that no weapon formed against me shall prosper (Isa. 54:17); in all His holy mountain they shall not hurt nor destroy (Isa. 11:9). Not hurt nor destroy in such a sense as to hinder from the chief end of my being, which is “to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever.” But, let me remember that as I cannot walk uprightly without the Lord for my wisdom and my buckler, so He is a shield and wisdom to them only who strive to walk uprightly.

February 22nd

The commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life.”—6:23.

Interpretation.—Fathers’ law and mothers’ instruction are here specially meant. But though these come through human intervention, they are, if good, of divine origin. Both are given to shed light upon the young man’s path, that he may not err, nor run into any kind of danger. Disciplinary reproofs are also needful to enforce the above, and, if received in a right spirit, and acted upon, will keep the feet in the way of life.

Illustrations.—The sons of Rechab illustrated the virtue of filial obedience, and how God rewards it. Eli’s sons, on the other hand, would not heed even his too gentle reproofs, and forsook the way of life. Amaziah forbad Amos, and Ahab Micaiah, to prophesy truth, and both perished in their sins. The Pharisees and lawyers, offended at John Baptist’s stinging rebukes, ‘rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.” How excellently both Samuel and Timothy repaid the instruction, and followed the advice of godly parents!—a pleasing contrast to the young man whose ruin Solomon describes, and whose own confession is, “How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; and have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!” (5:12, 13).

Application.—To the young, inexperienced in the ways of the world, good parents should be an inestimable gift. Through their lips God teaches wisdom, and by their discipline restrains from folly. The laws of a well-regulated household educate, the tender counsels of a pious mother persuade, the stern reproofs of a judicious father incite, to virtuous habits. Happy the son or daughter trained under such holy discipline! Happy if they bear the yoke in their youth, and walk in the light that shines about their path! From what evils will they be guarded, from what mistakes preserved! Such households not seldom reproduce themselves for generations, and are distinguished by visible marks of God’s blessing. Am I a son or a daughter belonging to such a family?—let me profit by the lighted lamp that illuminates the house. Let me kindly accept, not peevishly resent, the wholesome regulations which are insisted on for my good. I may not see the utility of them all, but what is my experience worth? Let me accept reproofs also meekly in the spirit in which they are given, as intended to fence about with a hedge of thorns the way of life, that I break not through. The sins of youth are sins, even though they be sins of ignorance. But they become presumptuous transgressions if committed in the teeth of law, instruction, and reproofs.

February 23rd

A young man void of understanding.”—7:7 (or vide p. 190).

Interpretation.—The narrative may be treated as literal or as allegorical. In the first sense it represents a young man void of understanding or heart, i.e. of principles such as might have been acquired in a godly home, led captive by a wanton woman. Mystically, it portrays the fascinations of error, by which the soul of an inexperienced and unstable one becomes ensnared and ultimately destroyed, and all for the lack of that foundation of true wisdom in head and heart which a religious education lays.

Illustrations.—Dinah, though of the opposite sex, illustrates well the peril to a young person’s virtue of idle gadding about in the neighborhood of temptation. Joseph illustrates the strength of true religious principle in the moment of strong temptation. By the prophet Ezekiel (16) the corruption of truth is set forth under the image of the Church, the Bride of Jehovah, become an harlot. And many a strong man, much more many a “a young man void of understanding,” has been seduced into heresies and schisms (as in the case of the Nicolaitanes of old) by the wiles of this Jezebel, a Church that has apostatized from the faith (Rev. 2:20, etc.).

Application.—What need of parental advice to be both given and taken on a temptation which has cast down so many as that to fleshly sins! Happy the young man who, being forewarned, forearms himself with the whole armor of God, and so is able to stand in the day of trial. Such a one will not have a mind vacant of profitable subjects of thought, nor a heart devoid of right affections towards God. Guided by others’ experience, he will be alive to the dangers which always beset youth. He will know the importance of spending his evenings well; will avoid sauntering at unreasonable hours and in questionable company or neighborhoods; will shrink and flee from a temptress, however plausible, however fascinating; will not dally with temptation, however specious; will bethink himself of baptismal vows and the eye of God; will lift up the heart in prayer. Thus he will be saved in time from that sin which has wounded many, yea, given the death-wound to souls without number. Or, if it be to schism, or heresy, or infidelity the young man is tempted by persuasions addressed to his intellect, and backed by the seeming authority even of the Church itself, or of some sect professing to be the Church (for Anti-Christ can simulate Christianity), the young man who imbibed truth at his mother’s knee and his father’s lips will know how to resist this temptation also, and will prove himself not “void of understanding,” because not void of heart.

O my God, from fornication, and all other deadly sin; from false doctrine, heresy, and schism,—deliver me!

February 24th (F. St. Matthias)

The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.”—16:33 (18:18).

Interpretation.—By “the lap” may be meant either the loose, external part of the clothing covering the bosom, or (more probably) the bottom of an urn. In either case the writing which, having been cast in promiscuously and shaken together with others, came out first, decided the matter. Or rather, as the inspired Teacher observes, it was thus decided by the overruling providence of God.

Illustrations.—The lot, though not ordained by the Mosaic law, was employed on several occasions by divine appointment, and hence resorted to by Israelites not unfrequently for the determination of doubtful questions. Achan was thus brought to justice. Canaan was so divided as to fulfil the prophecy of Jacob. Departments of duty and priestly functions were assigned. Controversy between man and man was decided. Even the heathen thus acknowledged a Supreme Being, as in the case of the sailors’ lot which fell upon Jonah, the Pur of Haman, and the dice of the Roman soldiers fulfilling the decrees of God. Saul was chosen to be king, and St. Matthias to be of the number of the Apostles by the same appeal to Heaven.

Application.—The use of the lot has never obtained in the Christian Church. At the time of the election of St. Matthias “the Holy Spirit was not yet given.” The continuance of such a practice has not seemed expedient to the Holy Ghost and to the Church. Nevertheless, the recognition of God in all things is as binding upon me as a Christian, as ever it was upon the Jew. I must believe that there is no such thing as chance. The term itself is one merely for expressing our ignorance. All things, even the most minute, are subject to His ordering who makes the greatest events to hinge upon circumstances apparently the most trivial. Joseph’s errand to Dothan at the very time when Ishmaelite merchants were to pass by, was the preservation of a kingdom and a Church, just as the adverse fate of a kingdom was decided by Joash staying his hand from smiting the ground at the third time. Thus sweetly does God dispose of all second causes; while they do their own will, they do His. Man can never give more than the outward occasion for the decision which lies in God’s hands. Let me, then, make a habit, while using all lawful means towards a desired end, of referring all matters to God, with implicit faith in His overruling wisdom and power. Thereby do I acknowledge that He verily rules the world. Thereby I ensure safety by submission to His holy will.

O God, do Thou give me to believe that Thou art indeed God!

February 25th

All the words of My mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them. They are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge.”—8:8, 9.

Interpretation.—This description of Wisdom’s words takes away all excuse from those who hear them. They cannot be objected to on the ground of ambiguity, for they are all uttered in rectitude, spoken straight out without circumlocution or vagueness, giving no occasion for stumbling or error. But they require in those to whom they are addressed a certain preparedness of heart, knowledge “to discern between good and evil,” the power to estimate what is good.

Illustrations.—The Psalmist was aware of this character of God’s law when he prayed that his own eyes might be opened to discern its wondrous things (Ps. 119:18). Nathanael and the Ethiopian treasurer were men of candid minds and receptive hearts, to whom truth, when once revealed, was “plain” and “right.” To the Bereans searching the Scriptures, Christianity commended itself as a divine revelation. Saul of Tarsus, praying, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” is at no loss to discover the path of duty. On the other hand, Balaam, bent upon his own way, is allowed to pervert by a fatal ingenuity the declared will of the most High, to his own hurt.

Application.—St. Peter speaks of those who in his day wrested the words of St. Paul, and the other Scriptures also, to their own destruction (2 Epist. 3:16). There have been those in all ages who have so misapplied the teaching of God’s Holy Word as to justify sin and support error. But the fault was in themselves, not in Wisdom’s words. Their minds were tortuous and their hearts dishonest, or else they leaned too much to their own understanding. But “Wisdom is justified of all her children.” “If any one will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God or not.” In other words, if my sincere aim and prayer is to obey God, He will not suffer me to fall into or remain in fatal error. The Holy Spirit will guide me into all truth—practical truth, that is, enough for salvation. The way to heaven is the pathway of holiness, and the wayfarers on that shall not err therein (Isa. 35:8). Out of Christ’s school there is, indeed, no true wisdom. But Christ admits the believers into His bosom, and He Himself is in the bosom of the Father. The very babes in Christ are taught of God; the more advanced Christians have an unction of the Holy One, and know all things. To obey is to understand. But, as God’s ways are plain unto the godly, so are they a stumbling-block unto the wicked. If I will be ignorant, I shall be ignorant.

Oh for the heart to desire that I may know Wisdom‘s ways!

February 26th

Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: but he that hateth reproof is brutish.”—12:1 (13:1).

Interpretation.—The word “instruction,” as used by Solomon, contains the idea of discipline, and discipline involves reproof. The words above may be thus transposed: “He loveth correction who loveth knowledge: and he hateth rebuke who is without reason,—as stupid as the brutish cattle.” The meaning clearly is that the man who loves knowledge willingly puts himself in the place of the disciple, and is thankful for reproof as a part of wholesome discipline. Whereas, he who will not bear to be corrected of his fault proves himself incapable of improvement, which, as a rational being, he ought not to be.

Illustrations.—David, by humbling himself under the reproofs of Nathan and the coarser rebukes of Shimei, accepted a godly discipline, and learnt to know himself. Whereas, Ahab, by hating to hear the truth at Micaiah’s lips, rushed blindfold to his own destruction. Asaph, left to his own reasonings, owns himself foolish and ignorant as a beast before God; submitting to be guided by God’s counsel, looks forward to glory (Ps. 73:22–24). Stiff-necked as the ox that eateth hay was Israel while turning away from God’s guidance. To submit to His will as the angels in heaven do, is the prayer of the Israel of God.

Application.—Man is distinguished above the most rational of the lower creation by being capable of improvement to any extent. But this he is only by submitting to education, training, discipline. The youth who rejects these will fall very low in the scale of humanity. Men become brutes, yea, worse than brutes, who do not rise as men, and this from an intellectual and moral point of view alone. How much more when the spiritual part of man is taken into account also! The Church is the school of the Holy Ghost, and I am placed therein to be trained for heaven. How much there is to learn and to unlearn! What need of teaching, of correction, of restraint! Sometimes God chastens with His own hand, and utters His rebukes direct through the conscience of the individual. More often He employs men as His instruments, and even those who do the work in anger or out of envy. Let me not kick against a wholesome discipline which comes from God, however unworthy the instruments who administer it. Nature, indeed, hates reproof. ‘Tis a bitter morsel at any time. But even when least deserved, I may extract good from it, for to submit in silence is a lesson in grace well learnt. Jesus Himself, as man, consented to learn obedience by the things which He suffered (unjustly). How much more may I!

From hardness of heart, good Lord, deliver me!

February 27th

As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to them that send him.”—10:26 (13:17, etc.).

Interpretation.—Vinegar sets the teeth on edge. Smoke causes the eyes to smart and overflow with tears. So a slothful messenger is the occasion of bitter annoyance “to them who give him a commission.” Whereas, “a faithful messenger is a cordial” to his employers (13:17), and “refresheth the soul of his master” as a cooling drink is refreshing in time of harvest (25:13).

Illustrations.—The displeasure excited by want of promptitude on the part of a messenger may be measured by the satisfaction a faithful messenger gives. Eliezer as such must have acquitted himself well in the eyes of Abraham. Ahimaaz and Cushi both aimed at establishing their character as “swift to run” with Joab, and as loyal messengers with David. God’s ambassadors should equally be alert in His service; unlike the prophet sent to Bethel, whose lingering homewards proved fatal to him; unlike Jonah, whose cowardly avoidance of his duty provoked the anger of the most High. “How beautiful,” on the other hand, have been “the feet” of Apostles and evangelists speeding as Christ’s ambassadors through the world!

Application.—Let me observe how the minor morals are not neglected in Holy Scripture. It may seem a small thing to be a prompt messenger, but nothing is really small in God’s account. “He who is a Christian in little things (as well as great), is not a little Christian.” Even eating and drinking, even cleanliness and punctuality, are elevated to the rank of Christian duties,—are baptized, as it were, that they may be for the glory of God. Perhaps the world takes more note of the duties than of the graces of the professing Christian, and to be “not slothful in business” will be appreciated by an employer who may not understand the conscientiousness which prompts it. But such an employer will certainly not be prepossessed in favor of a religion which seems to allow of unfaithfulness even in “that which is least;” and I shall certainly be a stumbling-block to others if, being a communicant, I provoke to just wrath by loitering or procrastination. Whereas, the satisfaction given by promptitude and diligence will win for me the credit of consistency, and, it may be, for my religion a more favorable consideration. Specially, if privileged to do any Church work for my Master in heaven, and most of all if, as His ambassador, let me remember the strict account to be given.

February 28th

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.”—12:15 (13:10; 15:22).

Interpretation.—Men in general are apt to think themselves right (16:2), but “the fool” knows no other standard but his own. And whereas wise men are glad to be “well advised,” and to consult with many, the fool is unwilling even to listen to counsel, and invariably prefers his own way.

Illustrations.—Lot’s sons-in-law were lost through not heeding counsel, and Rehoboam forfeited ten parts of his kingdom through listening only to fools like himself. Israel, after the time of Joshua, brought judgments upon their own head by persisting in “their stubborn way” (Judg. 2:19), and added to their iniquities against the advice of their prophet by asking a king—to their national hurt, as it turned out. Moses, on the contrary, “in the meekness of wisdom,” adopted Jethro’s advice for the judging of the people. David escaped a crime by giving ear to the sage counsel of Abigail. Nathanael not too proud to take a hint, and Apollos willing to learn more of those who could teach, both proved themselves to be no fools, and became “wise unto salvation.”

Application.—The character of folly (as Solomon paints it) is a proud, high-minded self-sufficiency, which disdains all admonition, brooks no control, and deems its own plans ever and certainly the best. Wisdom, on the contrary, is characterized by a self-diffident and humble spirit, that seeks guidance, covets instruction, and is ready to yield to good counsel at the hand of man, and to render entire submission to the will of God. Let me look upon this picture and that, and say which character I admire most and will strive to make my own. Surely, when the Lord pointed to a little child, He commended that deference to others which for a time (alas! only for a time) characterizes the very young. Doubtless, I must often act upon my own judgment after all, but let me be “well advised” first. Wisdom is got by hearkening to good counsel, for none is born to it (Job 11:12). Let me love those who advise, rather than those who praise me. Let me distrust to begin with advice which exactly chimes in with my own inclinations. The first step to knowledge is to know that we are ignorant, and right conclusions can only be based upon sound knowledge. Hence the wise take advice, while fools only give it. For he who knows nothing doubts nothing. If ever a fool become wise, he will begin to receive advice.

God grant that I be not of the number of the “proud, knowing nothing”!

February 29th

Wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.”—8:11.

Interpretation.—The excellency and beauty of Wisdom (i.e. true religion) are here set forth. No price is too great to pay for her. No ornament can be compared with her. Weigh what is dearest against her, and its insignificance will appear.

Illustrations.—Solomon made silver and gold most plentiful, but, after all, his wisdom was the glory of his reign, and while he served God his glory far exceeded his wealth. Moses made a wise choice when he estimated the privileges of the people of God as far above the riches of Egypt. Jesus was “fairer than the sons of men,” though destitute of all the world counts admirable, by the exceeding beauty of the wisdom which shone forth in Him. And all His true followers who have counted the world cheap for His sake, have been decked with more “durable riches,” and an honor far more real than the world itself can give.

Application.—Jewels are universally admired, by Orientals especially. Hence the Eastern sage can find no better comparison by which to extol the wisdom he sets before us. It is incomparably superior to the gems which adorn a crown, nay, to any which the imagination may picture or the heart desire. In this description he was anticipated by the patriarch Job (28:18). But the same Spirit inspired both—the Spirit which rested upon the man Christ Jesus, and made Him “of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord” (Isa. 11:2). How perfect was His nature; how absolutely without a flaw His character; how did the luster of His life irradiate this dark world! Am I called to be His follower? Am I united to Him in the fellowship of His Church? Am I set to be a light shining before men? The same divine inspiration which perfected human nature in Him is offered me. I may become (oh, how wonderful!) Christlike. And this to be, is it not to surpass all the world has ever dreamt of? To speak of no other things, are any treasures of earth comparable in beauty and worth to a Christian character? What diamond surpasses it for brightness? What “pearl of great price” for purity? What ruby or emerald excels the ornament of its meek and quiet spirit? Herein is found a husband’s crown (12:4), and the jewel, ill set before, becomes admirable therein (11:22). Ah! what estimate can be formed of the “treasures that are hid in Christ Jesus” (Col. 2:3),—treasures, let me ever remember, to be found and gotten by me (3:13)!

Therefore, O Divine Wisdom, penetrate my heart with a sense of Thy own inestimable worth, that I may be willing to do and give up all for Thee, becoming thus possessed of “those good things that pass man’s understanding”![1]

 

 

[1] Pearson, C. R. (1880). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 1, pp. 32–60). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)

March

March 1st

And thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed,” etc.—5:2 (or vide p. 191).

Interpretation.—The “mourning” here threatened is of so intense a character that it will find vent in groans like the roaring of a wild beast. The word is thus used in other parts of this Book (19:12; 20:2; 28:15); and Ezekiel describes the unquiet nature of such mourning when he says, “Ye shall mourn one toward another” (24:23). The libertine is solemnly warned that “at the end,” when his “whole body is wasted away” through his excesses, he will break forth into the bitter lamentations which follow.

Illustrations.—The “exceeding bitter cry” of sensual Esau, when he discovered too late how he had bartered away his birthright for a mess of pottage, and the useless though agonized entreaty of self-indulgent Dives for a drop of water to cool his tongue, and for the undoing of his own evil influences, sufficiently illustrate the nature of the remorse here depicted.

Application.—Who can doubt that the laws of nature run parallel with the law written in the Word of God? Vice saps the health both of mind and body. Monuments of this awful law may be seen as plainly stamped with “the finger of God,” as was the warning pillar on the plain of Sodom. But the many are fully unveiled only to the eye of the physician and of the clergyman. Most heart-rending is the death-bed of the wasted debauchee. But even the physical accompaniments of such an end are nothing as compared with the torture of an awakened conscience, the anguish of “a wounded spirit” preying upon the vitals. Alas! too late for himself the despairing cry bursts forth as the wasted life passes in review before the mind’s eye, and it is seen that to have hated instruction and despised reproof was its undoing. But not too late (God grant it!) for me, for others to profit by such a warning. He who goes into the net of the wanton must expect to lose both health and goods and soul. God has affixed to sins of this nature (which the world treats so leniently in the case of men) the brand of His reprobation and abhorrence. And though many escape their worst consequences (as it were, “by the skin of their teeth”), none escape altogether, and there are examples enough of terrible remorse to deter me from running so tremendous a risk.

Thou who madest me for Thyself, and didst consecrate my body in Holy Baptism, enable me to keep it pure, and so win the blessings Thy holy law has attached to purity!

March 2nd

My son, forget not My law; but let thine heart keep My commandments: for length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.”—3:1, 2.

Interpretation.—When ear and heart have been applied to wisdom (2:2), memory and heart must keep what is given, both the “doctrine” and the commandments. And as an encouragement to do this, the promise is added that “extension of days” (in this world), and “long life,” “even for ever and ever” (in the world to come), and “peace”—an abiding sense of security and satisfaction—“shall they add to thee.”

Illustrations.—To Abraham the promise of “a good old age” was given, and in him and others of the patriarchs it is mentioned as being fulfilled. Job was thus rewarded as one who had deserved to be called of God “My servant Job.” To the Rechabites, obeying God and their father, tribal existence was promised in perpetuity (Jer. 35:19). The good man is described by David as one who loves life and sees good days (Ps. 34:12), i.e. who enjoys living through the possession of peace and prosperity. On the other hand, in bad men, such as Absalom, the sons of Eli, etc., the words have (how often!) come true, “They shall not live out half their days” (Ps. 55:23), and (how invariably!), “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isa. 48:22).

Application.—God would have me love goodness for its own sake and His. In consideration of human weakness, however, He offers rewards, temporal as well as eternal. Thus in the law of cause and effect, by which He governs the world, it comes to pass that, as a rule, long life and prosperity are the result of virtuous and religious habits. Not always so, indeed, for other elements, such as hereditary disease, may come in to disturb the rule. It is also another principle of God’s moral government that the children do suffer in this world for the parents’ misdoings. Still, as a general axiom, the above-named rule holds good. And if we speak of “life” in its truest and highest sense (as our Lord speaks of it, John 10:10), as the essence of real enjoyment through union of the soul with God, then the promises of the text hold good without any qualification. From this point of view, “He only lives who lives to God.” I may be an invalid, a cripple from my birth, in poor circumstances, yet, if a devout Christian, a flavour will be given to my life, far surpassing the zest of animal strength and spirits. Yea, my life may be cut off by an untimely sickness or accident, yet the verification of the promise only moves forward into eternity. My days will be multiplied, my years increased, in a land where no pain or death can intrude.

March 3rd

Come, eat of My bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled.”—9:5.

Interpretation.—Wisdom’s house is the Church of Christ. “Seven” is the number of completeness (ver. 1), and the Church is built upon foundations all-sufficient (Eph. 2:20). A sacrificial feast is made (ver. 2), which men are invited to partake of. Messengers (ver. 3)—a pure ministry—are sent forth with the invitations. They are proclaimed in the ears of those who need wisdom, “the simple and without understanding” (ver. 4). “Bread and wine” are offered (no contradiction to the sacrifice alluded to, ver. 2); and who can fail to observe in this a remarkable correspondence with the Savior’s own words (John 6:55), explained subsequently (Luke 22:19, 20), “My Flesh is meat, indeed, and My Blood is drink indeed”? Of the feast of the Lord’s Supper—a feast upon a sacrifice (and more)—these words, like the parable (Luke 14:15–24), may very well be explained though not limited thereto.

Illustrations.—Were not the Apostles to begin with “simple and without understanding” (Matt. 15:16; Luke 24:25)? Were not they invited to eat of the bread which Christ brake, and to drink of the wine which He mingled? Did they not thereby become partakers of His own Body and Blood which He had offered in sacrifice to God? Did they not continue to partake of this Table, and grow more and more in wisdom and true understanding? Did they not become messengers to invite others, and found a pure ministry to hand down the invitation?

Application.—Can I doubt that I ought to heed the voice of Jesus, heard above His ambassadors, inviting to His holy Table? There for me, a sinner, is a feast of reconciliation with God. There for me, a needy one, is wisdom, understanding, holiness, grace for all my need. What bread can nourish like that under which lies hid the mystery of Christ’s Body? What wine can cheer like that which conveys the virtue of Christ’s Blood? Nor need I doubt that the invitation is for me, if only I know myself to be in want of a Savior; if only I am willing to “forsake the foolish and live.” Indeed, I may not continue to “eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence,” if I would be fed from Christ’s table. Let me give up all that unfits for this heavenly banquet. Then I may come, because invited, and He will count me worthy who bade me, and will Himself sup with me, and nourish my soul and body unto eternal life.

My soul, the King invites; make thyself ready to enter into His banqueting house, where His banner over thee will be Love (Cant. 2:4)!

March 4th

Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.”—9:8.

Interpretation.—These words should be taken with the foregoing verse. By the “scorner” is meant here (as always) a free-thinker who scoffs at religion and virtue. The Hebrew word is derived from a root signifying “to bend or twist,” and such men often both “wrest” the truth (2 Pet. 3:16) and use words of double meaning. To reprove such men is almost to court insult and hatred, and it may be, under provocation of spirit, to get to oneself a blot (Isa. 29:21), by speaking hastily. Whereas, to admonish a wise man is the sure way to earn his love and good will, for even if not at the very time, afterwards he will appreciate the well-meant effort.

Illustrations.—King Amaziah, threatening the prophet who reproved him, was let alone to perish in his unwisdom (2 Chron. 25:16). Micaiah, through faithful dealing (as Elijah before him), was hated and persecuted of Ahab. What contradiction and insult did not the blessed Jesus endure at the lips of those whom He would have made wise unto salvation! St. Paul departed from those who hardened themselves (Acts 19:9), and even shook off the dust of his feet against them (Acts 13:51), while he gladly taught those who were willing to hear. How wisely and well David accepted the reproofs of Nathan, and St. Peter those of St. Paul, whom he calls afterwards “our beloved brother,” and the two disciples at Emmaus the instruction mingled with chiding of their unknown Lord!

Application.—It may be my duty sometimes to reprove, but I must take heed how I do it. The motives should be jealousy for God’s honor, and love of my brother. And, oh, what love is required to speak the truth so as to profit and not give needless offence! Love will furnish the cue when to address and when to abstain. But the wisdom of the serpent is much to be desired also. A rebuke given publicly may only wound, and rebound upon my own head. Yet there are occasions when it would seem to be traitorous to my God to withhold it. Again, there are times when “a sad, serious, intelligible silence” may prove the most effective reproof; when to utter Gospel truths would be like casting “pearls before swine” (Matt. 7:6). Again, a reproof given privately, in connection with acts of kindness and demonstrations of genuine love, and in a spirit of deep humility, may win a soul to repentance. Wise men (alas, how few!) will accept what is true in a well-timed, merited reproof, and love the faithful monitor. Let me learn humility under rebuke before administering it to another; and, like Samuel ere he reproved Saul, prepare my own soul by crying to God (1 Sam. 15:11).

March 5th

A fool’s wrath is presently known: but a prudent man covereth shame.”—12:16 (14:17, 29; 29:11).

Interpretation.—It is one of the marks of unwisdom to make known vexation at once (“on the same day”). Whereas, “a prudent man,” “one who is rich in understanding,” is “slow to anger,” and by restraining himself, avoids exposure both of the “shame” or affront put upon him, and also of his own wounded feelings thereat. Thus too he escapes putting himself to shame by unseemly word or act; whereas “he who is quick to anger worketh folly,” for passionate anger is an offence against self-respect.

Illustrations.—Both Saul and David present contrasts with themselves at different periods of their history. How wisely Saul controlled himself under disaffection and insult at the very outset of his reign (1 Sam. 10:27)! To what frenzies of wrath did the same man give way later on against his own son and David! Nor was the son of Jesse less painfully inconsistent with himself as towards Eliab (1 Sam. 17:29), and towards Nabal (1 Sam. 25:21, etc.). Naaman was very near playing the fool, through irritation of spirit, to his own great loss; and Jonah exalted (or enthroned) folly even before the Lord (4). Gideon, by a prudent answer, averted a quarrel (Judg. 8:1–4). But the “meek and lowly” Jesus is our great Exemplar, who in all His provocations did “not strive nor cry.”

Application.—How hard it often is to restrain anger, and how many excuses rise up to justify its indulgence! The frequency of the temptation is attested by the many cautions against it in this one of the sacred Books alone. Its vehemence is proved by the fact that so holy and meek a man as Moses was overborne by it. The world judges very differently from Holy Scripture on this point, and commends as “proper spirit,” or extenuates as “indiscretion,” displays of temper as foolish as irreligious. But can I doubt to which guide to commit myself? Surely I have known of, if indeed I have not seen, many an example of the words above quoted,—offence taken suddenly, an outburst of indignant language,—exposure, shame, regret, apology, succeeding. All which would have been saved by the exercise of self-control. Let me reflect that no greater triumph can be given an enemy than to know that he has wounded to the quick, and how he may do it again. Even bodily health suffers from violent perturbations of the spirit; how much more the mind and the soul! But higher motives must be brought in, which may go to the root of the evil. “Looking unto Jesus” is the only specific for sinful anger. And “anger is only sinless when it is a holy emotion directed against an unholy thing” (Eph. 4:26).

March 6th

There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.”—12:18 (13:17; 4:22).

Interpretation.—The fault condemned is that kind of talk which, whether from pure inconsiderateness, want of tact, want of sympathy, or cruel purpose, often inflicts stabs—like the thrusts of a sword—upon the feelings of other people. In contrast with this, the tongue that is wisely guided has a healing influence, speaks words of soothing, words which allay resentments, compose differences,—in short, promote peace and concord.

Illustrations.—How harsh, indiscriminating, and inconsiderate were the reproaches with which Job’s (so-called) friends pierced that afflicted man! Well might he call them “miserable comforters,” “physicians of no value,” and charge them with vexing his soul, and breaking it in pieces with words (13; 16; 19). With still more intention of wounding did King Saul use his tongue (compared by David to a “sharp sword,” Ps. 57:4) against Jonathan and the son of Jesse (1 Sam. 20:30; 18:21). Whereas, Jonathan so wisely spake of David to his father as to heal for a time the breach between the two (1 Sam. 19:4, etc.). St. Paul, though obliged to wound, was prompt to heal the wound inflicted when, as a wise physician, he saw the time was come (1 Cor. 5:1–6; 2 Cor. 8:8, etc.). But no greater contrast can be found than the Jews exhibited to our Lord,—their words being too often designed to stab Him to the heart, while His, even when most severe, were medicine for their souls.

Application.—To avoid what we observe to be offensive in others is a plain duty recommended by common sense, if by no higher motive. And who has not met with the character which the Germans significantly term “a sword-mouth”? Such is often a mere babbler, who neither bridles his loquacity by reflection nor moderates it by indulgent reference to his fellow-men. Through mere want of thought and tact and good manners, he will blurt out remarks by which the feelings of others are hurt, without regarding it. Or he may be a still more dangerous character, a wit, who must make his jokes, his sarcasm, his repartee, no matter at whose expense. For the sake of its glitter the sword is flourished, and any one may feel its piercing. Such people are to be feared and avoided. Be it mine to employ my tongue to heal; and only to wound, if needs be, with a view to work a cure. To this end let me seek “the wisdom that is from above.” Then my speech will be “always with grace,” and “seasoned with salt,” the flavoring of that highest wisdom which has its source in the hidden depths of charity.

March 7th

The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment.”—12:19.

Interpretation.—“The lip of truth,” i.e. which speaketh truth, endures for ever. In other words, The truth-speaker shall never be confounded. Whereas, “A lying tongue endures only for a wink of the eye” (lit.)—for “a small moment” (Isa. 54:7)—the liar being soon convicted and brought to shame. Another rendering is, that “the lip of truth is ever steady: but the lying tongue is (so) only for a moment,” unvarying consistency of statement being contrasted with constant vacillation. In either sense the proverb points the same moral.

Illustrations.—How quickly was the lie of the Gibeonites, of Gehazi, of Ananias and his wife, detected and exposed!—“in the twinkling of an eye,” as one might say. But even in such cases as Potiphar’s wife, or Jezebel, or the old prophet of Bethel, where the lie endured long enough to work its desired effect; or in the case of false teachers, whose lies have endured for generations,—what is a lifetime, or what a thousand years, but a moment compared with eternity? Observe too how wisely Solomon’s judgment guided him to distinguish the truth-speaking mother by her consistency. And how out of his own mouth the Lord (in the parable) convicts the “slothful and wicked servant” of a plausible but untrue excuse. Whereas, the integrity of such men as Job and Joseph and Nehemiah, however called in question for a time (Job 22; Gen. 39; Ezra 4:7, 23), has been established, and the truths taught by God’s servants in all ages are “graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever.”

Application.—Among secondary reasons for always speaking truth the proverb above furnishes a weighty one. The liar is certain to be found out, sometimes very soon, always too soon for him. His own tongue, maybe, will betray him. How often in a court of justice does the confusion of a false witness demonstrate the righteousness of God! Or one whom he has made his confidant turns traitor, and exposes the falsehood he connived at. Even dumb animals and inanimate nature, yea, “the stone out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber,” are in a conspiracy against the liar, and will turn tell-tale when least he expects it. Even the longest reprieve will seem but a moment in the light of eternity. Nor is there any real peace during that reprieve. Whereas, the truthful are pre-eminently secure. Truth, spoken, will hold its ground. It may be eclipsed, but only for a while, to come to light again. It may be overborne, but it must prevail in the end. Let me, then, as a Christian, eye eternity in my words, and be strictly accurate even about small matters. For “eternity is at once the gain of truth and the cost of a lie.”

March 8th

A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”—12:10.

Interpretation.—“A good man knows how his cattle feel,” has a fellow-feeling with them as regards the body; just as the Israelite was said to know the heart of a stranger, having been a stranger himself in the land of Egypt (Exod. 23:9). Hence he will duly attend to their comfort, and never urge them beyond their strength. On the contrary, the bowels of the wicked are without mercy; even when least inhuman he is cruel; his very compassions are compassionless (proceeding from no spirit of compassion, but only sordid self-interest); so little does he know what real mercy is, that by comparison with it his mercy is cruelty. And this, which is true of the righteous and the wicked, even as regards their beasts, applies still more to their treatment of their fellow-men.

Illustrations.—Jacob, when leading on his flock “softly” (Gen. 33:14), is both a type of the Good Shepherd (Isa. 40:11) and an example to Christians of wise consideration for dumb animals. David, who (also typically) imperiled life for his lamb (1 Sam. 17:34, 35), exhibits the same good trait. It was put into the mouth of Balaam’s ass to plead against inconsiderate cruelty towards his kind. Adoni-bezek, by a striking retribution, was made to feel that the “tender mercies of the wicked are cruel”—a lesson Pilate had not learnt when, in the same breath, he expressed a desire to release our dear Lord, and sentenced Him to the torturing infliction of the scourge (Luke 23:16).

Application.—One has frequent occasion to observe and to shudder at the cruel treatment of animals, specially of beasts of burden, and sometimes through sheer inconsiderateness on the part of employers of labor. Let me remember that it is a mark of “the wicked” to be cruel, whether directly or indirectly, and that want of thought in such a matter is really want of feeling. If I would resemble God, I must cultivate a merciful disposition, for “His (inalienable) property is to have mercy.” Has Ho not taught this by those precepts of the Jewish law which secured to beasts and cattle a weekly rest (Exod. 20:10), and the reward of their labor (Deut. 25:4), which forbade to give unnecessary pain even to birds (Deut. 22:6)? Is it not a part of His righteousness to regard the life of beasts, as well as man (Ps. 36:6) as in the case of Nineveh (Jonah 4:11)? Nay, is not “the whole creation” included in some way in the redeeming work of Christ (Rom. 8:19, etc.)? Can I, then, if a Christian, ill-treat any to whom God is kind? Not if I resemble Him whose love encompasses the universe. Not if my soul be one with Christ, for “the worthier the soul the greater its compassion.”

March 9th

My delights were with the sons of men.”—8:31.

Interpretation.—Wisdom, who here speaks, is “not an attribute but the essence of God.” Hence these words may very well be applied to the Son of God Himself. The best commentary on them is John 1:1–4. There we are taught the same truth as here, that the world was created by the Son, “the Wisdom of God,” as the mediating Agent made use of by the Father. But a further truth is taught us in the text above. The earth was created for man, and man for God. The Creator rejoiced in the earth as man’s habitation, and His “delights were with the sons of men.” But, inasmuch as the fall of man must have been foreseen, we are here led to infer that his restoration was foreseen also. We have here a picture of “the Redeemer anticipating redemption.” We learn that “the Incarnation was the great purpose of creation, not an after-thought.”

Illustrations.—To compare small things with great. Jacob, who rejoiced over Joseph at his birth, would still more rejoice at his promotion to great honor. David’s love for the unworthy Absalom was so great, spite of his rebellion, that he would gladly have died to save him. There was great rejoicing at the dedication of the first Temple, but those who believed Haggai’s words about the second (Hag. 2:9), would delight in it still more in view of its surpassing glory as predicted. Jesus Himself set forth in parable (Luke 15) the greater joy over the recovered, and the one occasion on which this “Man of sorrows” is recorded to have “rejoiced” while upon earth, was in view of an increase of the saved (Luke 10:21), the “joy set before Him” being this, that He should “see of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied” “in bringing many sons to glory.”

Application.—Is it, then, true that my Creator is also my Redeemer? That when He brought the earth out of nothing, it was to be the theatre of a work of unimaginable love that should include me also? That when He formed man of the dust and me from the womb, it was to create for Himself an object of never-ending delight? That when He came down from heaven and clothed Himself in flesh, it was to seek and to save such as me who were lost? That when He poured out His soul in death, it was to make men once more meet for His fellowship? That He was lifted up to draw us (even me) unto Himself? That His pleasure in heaven has since been and still is to fashion me and others like me for glory? That He will not be satisfied till He has completed the number of His elect? All this is true; and it is true also that I may forfeit all that has been done by persistent refusal to be His.

March 10th

A prudent man concealeth knowledge: but the heart of fools proclaimeth foolishness.”—12:23 (13:16; 29:11).

Interpretation.—It is a mark of prudence to conceal knowledge, to maintain reserve even when able to speak with authority, and only to speak freely when place and time and audience make it both safe and desirable so to do. But fools, out of their empty heads and undisciplined feelings, trumpet forth all they suppose themselves to know, and the result is a very pitiable exhibition of want of sense and tact and knowledge.

Illustrations.—Elihu, though “full of matter,” modestly and prudently restrained himself from speaking until the older men had had their say, and thus escaped the reproof with which the Almighty visited the unguarded utterances of Job’s other friends (Job 32:4, 18; 42:7). Abraham and Joseph, out of consideration for others (Gen. 22:1–8; 42:7, etc.); Jeremiah and Esther for their own sakes, maintained a wise reticence under trying circumstances (Jer. 38:24, etc.; Esth. 2:10, 20). Whereas, the Amalekite who slew Saul, by an imprudent boast (2 Sam. 1:16), and Samson, by weakly betraying his own secret (Judg. 16:17), brought about their own undoing. Of our blessed Lord it was foretold that He should “deal prudently” (Isa. 52:13); there were times when He abstained from imparting knowledge (John 16:12; 19:9), and He bade His disciples observe the like prudence (Matt. 16:20; 17:9).

Application.—How often has silence been recommended as golden in this inspired Book, as well as by uninspired men! How often have I convinced myself of the truth that “deep waters flow silently, ‘tis the shallow brook that babbles”! And yet, so inveterate is folly, so “bound up in the heart,” that the temptation to speak too much is often yielded to, and seems almost irresistible. No man likes to confess to himself that he is a fool; but how many times must most men confess that they have spoken foolishly through giving rein to the tongue! I note it in others; must they not equally remark the same of me? I have seen men who were ignorant and unwise assume the air of an oracle, and profess to talk sapiently, to the derisive amusement or else the distress of the company. I have seen others who possessed knowledge parade it so obtrusively and with so much self-consciousness, as to earn the contempt and dislike which attach to the pedant. Shall not I, then, learn wisdom by observation? If knowledge and talent be mine, to husband them for good opportunities? Whether so or not, to acquire the power of keeping my own counsel, of being cautious rather than dogmatical, and at least as willing to learn as to teach?

March 11th

He that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster.”—18:9 (12:27).

Interpretation.—The work in question may be one’s own work or a commission from another. In either case slothfulness in its performance will be as injurious as waste is. Indolence and extravagance are, so to speak, brothers; there is an affinity between them. Thus (12:27) a man who is so lazy as not to take the trouble to roast that which he took in hunting, or even to leave it to his dogs, is guilty of waste as well as indolence. And he who through inertness allows his employer’s business to suffer, is as destructive to his interests as if he threw money away.

Illustrations.—The manna-gatherers who should have lost the early morn through sloth, would have wasted the provision sent for them by God from heaven (Exod. 16:21.)

The backwardness of the Jews to build the Temple in Haggai’s time brought upon them a destructive famine (Hag. 1:2–11). In the parables of the talents and of the unfaithful steward, our Lord teaches that he who hides his talent, who as a “slothful servant” neglects to improve it, will be solemnly called to account equally with him who “wastes his (master’s) goods” (Matt. 25:26; Luke 16:1, 2). In the judgment of the Omniscient One the Church that was “lukewarm,” and hence inactive, was the one that needed “counsel” not to waste her opportunities (Rev. 3:16, 18).

Application.—There is a literal sense in which these words prove themselves true to demonstration. I have only to compare the dwellings of the slothful and of the thriftless together, and the bareness of both betrays that slothfulness leads to the same end as extravagance, The one folds his arms, the other opens his hand too much. Though God give the prey to the hunter (Gen. 27:20), He will not save him from the consequences, if he waste what is given. The farmer who neglects his land, is liable to be overrun with weeds and vermin, and to learn by bitter experience how expensive a luxury self-indulgence is. The tradesman who exchanges a lazy assistant for a wasteful one, will find little difference in his losses at the year’s end. So true is it that “time is money.” Yea, of all prodigalities that of time is the worst. An idle man, equally with a spendthrift, is a burden and eyesore to his kindred, and his own enemy. And if this be true literally as regards this world, so also spiritually as regards the next. There is little to choose between one who squanders his religious privileges and one who neglects them. The barren formalist and the lifeless self-pleaser are alike dead to God.

March 12th

Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”—20:1.

Interpretation.—By “wine” we understand the fermented juice of the grape, by “strong drink” other fermented liquor, both intoxicating in their nature. What is predicated of the one may be equally of the other. Each, when taken in excess, betrays to sins of indecent mirth and ungoverned passion. Hence he who would be wise will take good heed to escape being beguiled by either. They are here personified, as though the demon of mockery and wild recklessness lay concealed within them.

Illustrations.—What need of warning when such righteous men as Noah and Lot were thus deceived to their own shame! By what a reckless spirit were not Benhadad, Ahasuerus, Herod Antipas possessed over their cups, leading to defeat, outrage, murder! Our Lord warns all His disciples against “drunkenness,” in which the day of reckoning may come upon them unawares (Luke 21:34); and His ministering servants specially, (is not the case of Nadab and Abihu a warning? Lev. 10:1, 2, 8, 9) against a habit which, of all others, renders its victims profane and foolhardy (Luke 12:45).

Application.—As an individual and as a citizen, this proverb is for me. Let me not think myself safe, however sober my habits may have been. For it is of the nature of this temptation to “deceive.” Many not on their guard have been insensibly lured onwards till they have fallen; and one fall, how often has it been succeeded by others! Yet I am not bound to abjure all intoxicating liquor, though it may be “expedient” to do so, if not as an individual, yet as a citizen, and still more as a member of Christ’s Body. The Bible furnishes many proofs that, in itself, intoxicating drink is not prohibited by God. Nay, under certain conditions and circumstances, He Himself has commended and even enjoined it. Moreover, my Divine Master partook of it at social meals, or the offensive charge of being a “winebibber” would have had no point. He created it also for the wedding party at Cana, and (may we not say?) hallowed its use in His holy Sacrament. True, the strong drinks of the present day are hardly to be compared with the more innocuous, fermented liquors of the Jews. And, therefore, those passages in the Bible which commend their wines are less applicable to ours, and those which caution against them are even more so. My duty clearly is, as one who would be “wise,” to be very moderate and very guarded in their use, and I may even feel myself bound as a citizen and a Christian, in view of the fearful evils resulting from their abuse, to abstain from them, for the sake of example and influence, in part or altogether.

March 13th

Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh: for the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.”—23:20, 21.

Interpretation.—In the East, where meat is more rarely eaten than with us, to devour much meat would be stigmatized as intemperance, no less than to drink much wine. The habit of luxurious feasting is here cautioned against as involving wasteful expenditure, and inducing indolent habits, which are fatal to success in any walk of life.

Illustrations.—Solomon himself would seem to have fallen into the habits he here warns against (Eccles. 2:1–3). And he woke from his dream of folly to find his glory gone. The gluttonous craving of the Israelites for flesh (Num. 11:10, etc.), and the riotous excesses of the Corinthian converts (1 Cor. 11:21), are held up in Scripture for our warning, as tending to evil, temporal and spiritual. St. Paul made a noble resolution to avoid the scandal of eating flesh which might perchance have been offered to an idol (1 Cor. 8:13), and resolved to keep under his body and bring it into subjection (1 Cor. 9:27).

Application.—While the evils of drunkenness proclaim themselves loudly, there is such a thing as intemperance both in food and drink which is far too little thought of. A brutal gormandizer, a driveling sot, would be shut out of all good society. But society welcomes to its halls the bon vivant who lives for “the pleasures of the table,” and is a connoisseur of meats and drinks. In a humbler class of life, the habits of such a man would be condemned unsparingly as likely to lead to vice and ruin. This word of God condemns them equally in all classes, not only for what they lead to, but for what they are. I am cautioned here to avoid the company of such as are “given to appetite.” For their luxurious feastings are in themselves excess, and will probably know no bounds. To eat too much, to love eating, to be over nice about it, is as much gluttony as to drink too much (although it stop short of intoxication) is insobriety. Both the one and the other is intemperance. Indolence, the lack of proper occupation, is of these habits both cause and effect. Let my mind and my time be well occupied, and I shall be content to eat and drink only that I may live, having higher objects to live for. But sensuality, besides engrossing too much time and thought, will tend to stupefy and enfeeble the powers which the business of life demands. I may easily thus come, in a literal sense of the words, to poverty and rags. How much more in a spiritual sense!

March 14th

Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, instruction, and understanding.”—23:23.

Interpretation.—Omitting the word “also,” which is not in the original, we have here three properties of truth enumerated—“wisdom, instruction, and understanding.” By “wisdom” is meant solid knowledge of God’s Word as opposed to superficial. By “instruction,” or “discipline,” moral culture. By “understanding,” the faculty of discerning good and evil (Heb. 5:14). In these truth is to be apprehended, not without pains and sacrifice. And having been so won, no consideration should induce a man to part with her again.

Illustrations.—Moses, obtaining the truth as then revealed in Jehovah, and St. Paul as revealed in God’s dear Son, both, at the cost of all this world could offer them, never parted with it, but, like the three favored Apostles, forsook all to follow it; like the Hebrew Christians, took joyfully, for Christ’s sake, the spoiling of their goods (Heb. 10:34), or what was an equivalent; like all the martyrs, “loved not their lives” (Rev. 12:11) in comparison with the truth. Unlike these, Herod, having truth presented to him, would not have it at the price of his sensuality, nor Pilate at the price of his popularity, nor the young ruler at the price of his wealth. Esau bartered! it for present gratifications; Judas for the price of a field; Demas for some worldly gain.

Application.—“I am the Truth,” says Jesus, and promises the Holy Spirit to “lead into all truth.” A sound knowledge of Jesus, His character, His work, His doctrine, is what I should aim at, and hope for, as within reach. And whatever measure of it I attain to, let me hold fast. Thus, have I become convinced of the twofold nature of the Christ—that He is God-man? Let no sneers, or arguments, or appeals to my reason induce me to let go that precious portion of the truth. Am I persuaded that love was an essential element of the character which He set before me as an example? Let nothing hinder me from perpetually striving and praying after Christian charity. Do I really believe in an atonement made upon the cross, and in the continual commemoration of that atoning sacrifice in the Holy Eucharist?’ Let me hold fast that precious truth, and never give it up, however unpopular it may be. This I shall be more likely to do, if I have not received my religion merely from tradition, but verified each article of it myself, at the cost of labor, self-sacrifice, it may be persecution. How dear to me will Church principles thus bought be! How little likely to be parted with! How strengthened and confirmed by every act in consonance with them!

And may He who taught me so much teach me more!

March 15th

My son, give Me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe My ways.”—23:26.

Interpretation.—“A greater than Solomon” is the speaker. For none but the Creator can claim the heart. And certainly the writer of this Book could not point to his own ways in warning youth against the seductions of fleshly sins. It is Wisdom personified who again lays siege to the youthful affections, and protests against their being given to such unworthy objects as the harlot and the wine-cup.

Illustrations.—Caleb and Joshua, who “followed the Lord fully,” contrast (how favorably!) with Jehu, who did not “walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart” (2 Kings 10:31), and with Amaziah, “who did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart” (2 Chron. 25:2). Samson, dedicated to God, and blessed by Him, and at one time moved by His Spirit, was unhappily seduced to give his heart to strange women, so that “the Lord departed from him.” Happy would it have been for Solomon had he acted out his own words, and “loved the Lord” with all his heart, without that fatal “but” and “only,” which marred his life (1 Kings 3:3; 11:1). It will not do to move on half-heartedly in God’s ways like Lot’s wife, nor like Orpah to turn back just where the road narrows.

Application.—Surely it is but reasonable that He who created and redeemed me should claim my heart. And what so reasonable as to give it—since to do so is life and happiness? All this I own, but alas! opposing voices too often drown “the still, small voice” within. There are many claimants for the heart. Heaven and hell contend for it. The flesh wrestles with the spirit. The world sides with the flesh; and Satan looks on exulting, while “the darling is given to the lion,” the heart to the murderer. Not always, however. There are those (and why not I?) who give themselves in their prime to Jesus, and their “eyes are upon Him” through life. There are others who, late, “too late” yet not too late, have wrenched away their hearts from unworthy loves, and laid them bruised and bleeding at the Redeemer’s feet. Nor will He spurn “a contrite heart”—only a divided one. He must have all or none. I cannot keep one little corner for even one besetting sin. No; He will not share His rightful throne with another. Nor can the surrender of the heart be forced. It must be a free gift. It is all I can give to Him who gave all for me, and shall I hesitate? Ah! how often has He knocked at that door in vain! But now—

Lord Jesus, take my heart, cleanse it and make it Thine; then shall my eyes observe Thy ways, and my feet walk therein!

March 16th

The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord: but the words of the pure are pleasant words.”—15:26.

Interpretation.—To bring out the antithesis, and meet the requirements of the Hebrew text, some transposition is needful here. Thus: “An abomination to Jehovah are evil devices, but pure (in His sight) are gracious words”—better expresses the original. The contrast is between thoughts of evil towards others, which are equally with injurious words hateful to God, and gracious words expressing gracious thoughts which He accepts as pure, having the genuine ring of true piety.

Illustrations.—There were thoughts in Cain’s heart, finding expression afterwards in words and deeds (Gen. 4:8, 9), which made him as well as his offering (Gen. 4:5) unacceptable to God. The sacrifices of the Jews in Isaiah’s time were an abomination to the Lord by reason of the state of their hearts towards their afflicted brethren (Isa. 1:10–20). Even so, in Christ’s parable, the Pharisee looking askance at the publican is rejected; and the unkind thoughts of Simon about the woman that was a “sinner” proclaim him unforgiven. A special reward is promised to those Jews of Malachi’s time (and not to them only), who “spake often one to another”—gracious words, we may be sure, which God hearkened to and approved.

Application.—It was regarded as a very clever saying, that “words were invented to conceal thoughts.” But the saying is really without point, unless we banish God from His world. For to Him thoughts are words, and by them, no less than by their words, mankind will be judged. Whether carried out or not, whether uttered or suppressed, they are equally known to the all-wise Searcher of hearts. They are the seminal principles of sin, containing within them the embryo murder or adultery (Matt. 15:19). They are the index of character, for “as (a man) thinketh in his heart so is he” (Prov. 23:7). To be watchful over the thoughts, then, is of the essence of true religion. To be careless about the thoughts is to be careless about the soul. To indulge unkind, sarcastic, revengeful thoughts about a neighbor, though concealed by hypocritical smiles and smooth speeches, is hateful in His sight, who is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” But, on the other hand, how acceptable to Him are those thoughts concerning others which issue in gracious words; alas! how comparatively rare in this sorrowful world! And why? Because the heart is not naturally kind.

Be it mine as a Christian, by the grace given me, to multiply such words!

March 17th

The light of the eyes rejoiceth the heart: and a good report maketh the bones fat.”—15:30 (16:15, 24; 12:25; 17:22).

Interpretation.—The Hebrew text requires us to understand by “the light of the eyes” that which is outside oneself—the bright, joyous, kind, sympathizing, approving eyes of another. The sight of such eyes is gladdening to the heart of all but the selfish and morose, and if of one in authority, or who brings a message, how reviving is the effect upon the spirits! Good tidings also have the like beneficial influence upon the health, and when the two combine—the cheering news, with the happy manner of imparting it—a most exhilarating sensation is experienced by the recipient of the “good report.” To such a one the words may be applied, “Your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like a herb” (Isa. 66:14).

Illustrations.—David tells us how his bodily health suffered, his “bones waxed old,” through suppressed heart-sorrow under a sense of sin. A message of pardon from heaven (perhaps delivered by Nathan) restored composure to his mind and elasticity to his frame (Ps. 32). The countenance of the holy Stephen irradiated by an angelic smile, did it not impress itself upon the memory of Saul the persecutor, among others, and help to bring home to his heart (to its unutterable rejoicing afterwards) the truths he at first blasphemed?

Application.—It is, then, in my power to be a “good physician” among my fellow-creatures, and that at a very little cost. Have I not myself experienced the immense benefit to mind and body of being brought into contact with one whose countenance beamed kindness? Even to meet such a one is a refreshment in this weary world, and seems to inspire hope. But if while those eyes have sparkled with delight the lips have delivered a message of love, or some good news, or a word of approval and encouragement—oh! has it not been to me as a cordial, putting new life into my faint or jaded heart? Now, why should not I do to others as I have so much enjoyed being done by? It is little enough good I can do. But if I cherish kind thoughts, they will speak through my eyes. And many times as a friend, an employer, yes, even as a stranger, I may impart a thrill of pleasure to some one whose heart is stooping, which may do more for him than any medicine. And if the peace of the Gospel shine forth in my countenance and prompt my speech, it may be my words shall be (like God’s Word) “as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.”

May Christianity be to mea law of kindness” (31:26)

March 18th

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is His delight.”—15:8 (21:27; 28:9).

Interpretation.—Sacrifice is more than prayer, for it includes prayer along with a gift to God. But the prayer alone of the upright is infinitely more pleasing to God than the sacrifice of the wicked, because the heart goes along with it. Thus, a word from a poor man who walked uprightly would be more acceptable to Jehovah than holocausts of the rich. Specially displeasing to a pure and holy God must be an offering brought not only without true prayer, the soul of all sacrifice, but “with a wicked mind” (21:27), as though to purchase God’s connivance with evil, to make Him “the minister of sin.” Or, if prayer be offered while sins of willful ignorance are persisted in, that prayer is “an abomination to the Lord” (28:9), and will vitiate any sacrifice. The verse following our text goes to the root of the matter, for if the personal character of a man be displeasing to the Almighty, how can aught which he offers be acceptable?

Illustrations.—The sacrifices of Cain, of Saul, of Balaam, were all an abomination, as “not being mixed with faith,” or being mixed with disobedience. In the cases of Absalom, Jezebel, and too many of the Pharisees in our Lord’s time, there was an actual prostitution of a religious rite to a pretext and cloak for sin. But of Eliezer, Elijah, Simeon, Anna, Cornelius, and a host of other worthies, the prayer, proceeding from an upright heart, was proved by its success to have been God’s delight.

Application.—Since God has always been a Spirit, it can be nothing new that He requires to be “worshipped in spirit and in truth.” Though more fully revealed, and more distinctly insisted upon under the Gospel, this primary lesson in religion was taught from the beginning, and learnt by every well-instructed Jew. And ought not I, as a Christian, still more to know and to act upon it? If so, I shall not delude myself with the vain idea that attendance upon ordinances (however sedulous) or performance of ceremonies (however correct) will serve in place of personal holiness. Nay, I shall know that all outward show of religion is simply offensive to God, and increases my guilt, unless there be a sincere effort running parallel with it to make the life consonant therewith. Shall I, then, give up prayer, forsake Church, neglect Holy Communion? By no means, for this would be disobedience, and also an abomination. I am not forbidden to pray, but commanded to pray aright. And so with all other religious duties. Man judges by acts; God by principles. Corrupt principles will spoil any acts, however good in themselves. Dissembled holiness is double iniquity. God stops His ears against their prayers who stop their ears against His law.

March 19th

He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”—28:13.

Interpretation.—The proverb applies to sins against men and God. To “cover” is to conceal, deny, justify, palliate. Faults thus dealt with will deservedly not obtain the pardon of a fellow-creature whom we have justly offended. How, then, should they of God, seeing that the sense of justice in man is a reflex of His nature? But as few men can and none ought to refuse forgiveness to a sin which is so truly repented of as to be both confessed and forsaken, much less will God Who is the Fount of mercy.

Illustrations.—Did Cain prosper who attempted to conceal his murder? Or Saul, who would have excused his disobedience? Or Gehazi, who denied his covetousness? But to David and Manasseh, on their true repentance, pardon was freely accorded. The king of Nineveh and his people were respited when they not only “cried mightily to God,” but “turned every one from his evil way.” The Ephesian converts proved the reality of their penitence when they burned their bad books.

Application.—These words contain the Gospel in its practical bearing upon man’s life. For what is the good news from heaven but a message of mercy—mercy already conceived, wrought out, offered? Now, here we are taught how that mercy may be obtained. True repentance is essential. And this consists of three elements—sorrow for sin, confession of it, amendment. The first of these involves the two last. Let my sorrow for sin be genuine, I shall not attempt to conceal, deny, justify, or palliate it. Convinced by the Spirit of the injury done to God, my first steps will be to His throne of mercy. Should my brother have been wounded by my fault, to him also I shall sue for pardon. In any case, the putting away of the evil, the amendment of the life, will attest my sincerity. For professed penitence without reformation is not penitence at all. Forgiveness is promised on the faith of God’s Word to as many as confess their sins (1 John 1:9). But should that peace which belongs to the assurance of pardon be withheld, the human ministry may be invoked. The Church, under the guidance of her great Head (John 20:23), has provided for such cases (vide first Exhortation to Communion and Visitation of Sick). Sin cast forth from the heart will pollute no more, nor be an element of judgment within. And if mine be the “peace which passeth understanding”—the peace of the absolved—shall I be less merciful than God? Shall I weary of pardoning the penitent? Shall not my love cover the sin confessed? Shall not my heart yearn over every sin-burdened soul?

March 20th

The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.”—15:3.

Interpretation.—In adaptation to human understanding, the omniscience of the Deity is here and elsewhere compared to eyes—“seven eyes,” indicating perfectness (2 Chron. 16:9; Zech. 4:10). They are said to observe, to examine, to behold (as from a watch-tower) the evil and the good everywhere. The doctrine has both its alarming and its comfortable side, but as it is intended first to warn, “the evil” are first spoken of.

Illustrations.—The omniscient eye of God observed our first parents in the garden, Joseph and Manasseh in prison, Achan within his tent, Hezekiah on his sick-bed, Nebuchadnezzar in his palace, the three youths in the furnace, Jonah in the whale, Nathanael under the fig-tree, St. Peter on the housetop, Herod on his throne, Lydia by the river-side, St. Paul in the tempest and before Nero, St. John in exile.

Application.—It is evident from Holy Scripture that nothing escapes the penetrating eye of God. He sees not only every man, but all his doings and all his thoughts. As our Governor, above all as our Judge, it is essential all should be “naked and open” to His Eyes. He must know all, that He may “rule in righteousness” and “judge righteous judgment.” Man in his sinfulness would prefer an impersonal God, would make of the machinery of Nature a God which he might observe without being himself observed. But the proofs of God’s all-seeing Eye are too irrefutable, and conscience bears witness to It too feelingly, to allow of there being as much atheism spoken as is acted. Yet the inner spirit of the guilty, until reconciled, is atheistic, and he saith with Job’s adulterer, “No eye shall see me” (Job 24:15). The same man would call upon God in time of danger. So easy is it to own omniscience and yet live “without God.” But, indeed, the thought of the all-seeing Eye is too terrible, when realized, to be endured unless we recognize in It the beamings of compassionate love. Am I, in the spirit of adoption, able to look up to God and cry, “Abba, Father”? Then, while the certainty that at every moment “Thou, God, seest me,” will make me watchful not to offend, in private as well as in public, in the church, in the counting-house, in the shop, in the street, wherever I am, it will not fill me with dismay. For I shall remember that He sees “the good” as well as “the evil,” and will reward the honest effort of His child to be good. He sees my faults. He sees my repentance also. He sees me “in the Beloved,” and accepts me for His sake.

March 21st

It is as sport to a fool to do mischief: but a man of understanding hath wisdom.”—10:23 (14:9).

Interpretation.—The “mischief” here meant is of the nature of a moral crime, e.g. unchastity (Judg. 20:6). To the irreligious, who place self above the moral law, such crimes, whether committed by themselves or others, are regarded as a good joke. They feel a pleasure in doing what is wrong because it is wrong, laugh off fears, ridicule objections, and with a light heart pursue their deadly course. On the other hand, wisdom comes not less naturally and pleasantly to “a man of understanding,” “the discerning man,” wisdom in practice not in theory alone,—than mischief to the fool. He follows his inner impulse in acting it out, and is in his element.

Illustrations.—How little did Amnon reck of the worse than folly he committed, upon the heels of which trod death! With Ahab it was as a “light thing” (1 Kings 16:31) “to add iniquity unto iniquity.” To Abner it counted for “play” that twenty-four men should die by one another’s hand; and he himself died “as a fool dieth” (2 Sam. 3:33). The King Ahasuerus and Haman could sit down calmly “to drink” after planning the destruction; in cold blood, of thousands of their fellow-creatures (Esth. 3:15). Mordecai, with equal deliberation, unlocked the wisdom that was in his breast to save them. Belshazzar could make merry in his profanity till the Heaven-sent apparition “changed” his countenance. The unchaste woman is represented as taking her meals in comfort, and saying, “I have done no wickedness” (30:20).

Application.—When I read of Nero setting Rome on fire, and then fiddling over it, I count him a fool. But what costly folly is sin, which kindles a fire in God’s anger that shall burn for ever (Jer. 17:4)! And is this a subject for mirth or ridicule? Sin, which, like the star “Wormwood,” has embittered all the fountains of man’s existence (Rev. 8:11)! Sin, which God counts so serious that He spared not His own Son to work its cure! Sin, which the angels wonder at, and holy men regard with awe and horror! How dreadful to think that not only follies but crimes are a subject of mirth, contemptuous mirth, to many! That souls are seduced to their ruin by scoffs, and their seduction made a subject of ribald jesting afterwards! That the frowns and tears and entreaties of parents and ministers are laughed to scorn! That Christ and holiness are made light of for the sake of a foolish bravado! That the conscience thus becomes seared, and its terrors, which ought to deter from sin, are lulled until it is too late!

O God, give me the wisdom which shall preserve me “from hardness of heart, and contempt of Thy holy Word;” and those great thoughts of Thee which make impossible slight thoughts of sin!

March 22nd

Wise men lay up knowledge: but the mouth of the foolish is near destruction.”—10:14 (12:23; 13:3).

Interpretation.—The contrast is between the wisdom of those who store up knowledge, keeping it in reserve, to deal out as may befit time and circumstances, and the folly of those who, out of their emptiness, blurt out continually words fraught with mischief to themselves or others. The word “near” being an adjective, the last clause may be more intelligibly rendered, “The mouth of the fool is (a) near (speedy) destruction,” an ever-present source of danger.

Illustrations.—Jacob and Daniel, and the blessed Virgin all did wisely in laying up in their hearts knowledge which it would have been unseemly to proclaim at the time. St. Stephen and St. Paul had both stored up learning, which, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, was of great service in their disputations as Christian teachers. Samson, by rashness of speech, “swallowed up himself” (Judg. 16:17; Eccles. 10:12), and Nabal’s churlish, ignorant words, which were “as a burning fire” of dissension, proved a quickly destroying agency against himself.

Application.—Happy he who early in life perceives the value of useful knowledge. No need to urge him to take pains to acquire it. As a miser is intent upon his savings, so will the studious youth be intent upon mental stores. Nor will he put them, as too many do, into an unretentive memory, “a bag” (as it were) “with holes.” No, for the exercise of memory will add strength to it, and he will retain at least a good residuum of what is thus accumulated. And then his wisdom will be not to display but to use this knowledge seasonably, for the instruction and benefit of others, rather than for his own glory; and to use what he has as a means of gaining more. Whatever my position in life, all useful knowledge will be of service, and tend to improve that position. There is a knowledge, moreover, which is acquired not from books but from men, from observation, from experience, and this is the most calculated to make wise; above all, if it be “sanctified by the Word of God, and prayer.” “The priest’s lips should keep knowledge.” The good steward will bring forth “out of the good treasure of his heart,” “things new” as well as “old,”—will be always increasing knowledge and experience. This, which applies primarily to the clergy, reaches to the laity as priests also in their degree (1 Pet. 2:9). By thus storing the mind and governing the lips, I shall be preserved, moreover, from the fate of those empty-headed praters who open their mouths continually, and always to do mischief (though it may be unintentionally), if not to others, to themselves.

March 23rd

He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is a fool.”—10:18 (ver. 2; 26:24).

Interpretation.—“He that hideth (dissembleth) hatred is a man of deceitful lips,” literally, “a mouth of falsehood.” “And he that spreadeth (or divulgeth) a slander is a fool.” The word rendered “fool” here is not the same word so often employed in this Book to signify an irreligious man, but a word that means “a stupid, dull, foolish fellow.”

Illustrations.—How treacherously did Saul act towards David, beguiling him to become his son-in-law, with a view to getting rid of him, by making his wife “a snare unto him”! Joab in his treatment of Amasa and Abner, Absalom of Amnon, above all, Judas of our blessed Lord, all exemplified the dissembler with a sinister purpose in view. The enemies of the Church in Ezra’s time, and of Christ and His Church in later times, did not scruple to bring accusations which were more or less perversions of truth to accomplish their unholy ends. What fools such dissemblers and slanderers are proved in the long run, let the failure of Saul, the fate of Joab and Judas, the exposure and condemnation of the Herodians and Pharisees, attest.

Application.—Every variety of sins of the tongue is cautioned against in this Book. None is more injurious than either one of the two here condemned. And when combined, the dissembled hatred and the propagated slander, what can be imagined more destructive to social happiness? Doubtless, Christianity has so far leavened society that in a Christian community treachery, with a view to murder, is comparatively rare, and there are limits to the virulence of slander. But the natural heart is still prone to hatred, and the tongue unhallowed still “uses deceit,” and under lips which have not been consecrated to God still lies “the poison of asps.” “War in the heart,” disguised by “words smoother than butter,” is not uncommon among men of the world. Vindictive feelings are concealed under complimentary phrases, “a cloak of maliciousness” excused on the plea of prudence or social etiquette. Now, it is well that language should be guarded, and offensive terms avoided. It would be better still that hatred and revenge should be cast out, and “love, the Christian’s badge,” worn on the heart. Then no secret unkindnesses would contradict professions of friendliness. Then no injurious tittle-tattle would undo a neighbour’s reputation. What is deemed politic often proves the height of folly. In fact, as a rule, insincerity is bad policy. For God in His own time will tear away the slanderer’s mask, and roll away from the innocent the reproach.

“Lord, purge my heart from these hateful, hidden conceptions, though it be by ‘the Spirit of judgment, and the Spirit of burning’!”

March 24th

He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.”—17:9 (10:12; 16:28).

Interpretation.—“He covereth,” i.e. keeps out of sight, “a transgression who seeketh after love,” i.e. whose aim is to promote love. “But be who repeateth a matter,” who returns again to what ought to be buried in oblivion—this man “estrangeth friends.”

Illustrations.—Neither Ziba nor Mephibosheth sought to promote love, but to win David’s good opinion, each at the expense of the other. And wherever the truth lay, one cannot but condemn the alacrity of the servant in denouncing his crippled master, and his eagerness to bring about a separation between David and the son of Jonathan (2 Sam. 16:19). Ahimelech, on the contrary, stretched a point to save David from Saul’s fury, withholding what he knew (1 Sam. 22:14, etc.). Our Lord sets us an example how to win by love, in His treatment of St. Peter’s cowardice, not throwing it in his teeth, nor saying aught to St. John to separate those chief friends. And St. Stephen imitated the Master in the forgiving prayer with which he left the world, covering, as far as in him lay, the transgression of his murderers.

Application.—We have here a new aspect of the sentiment already considered, that “Love covereth a multitude of sins.” It is a proof of that heavenly disposition that “seeketh after love,” not only to be willing to pass over and make allowance for offences committed against ourselves, but to endeavor to keep out of sight what may stir up strife between others. Specially, if a fault has been pardoned or a quarrel made up, not to bring the matter forward again, not to reopen wounds or rip up old sores. Alas! how prone one is, out of mere talkativeness, to do this! To mention quite needlessly what such a one has done, for the information of his friends! To allude (even in their presence) to some bygone cause of difference between two parties time had almost healed! By such means old disputes revive or fresh ones spring to life. Oh, let me discipline my tongue (and when better than in Lent?), not to promote discord, but love. Let me remember that all unnecessary allusion to others’ faults is scandal. I must indeed be at a loss for topics of conversation when I am driven to fall back on this. If duty compel me to speak of a neighbor’s failings, Christian charity will compel me to minimize, not magnify them. Repetition of little things gives them a factitious importance. Great matters, as a rule, lie beyond the province of an ordinary individual to decide. How much would the Church and society have to forgive me were all known! Shall I not, then, be as silent as possible about a brother, a sister, unless I can speak in their praise? Shall not mine be the spirit that seeks to promote love, and the blessed tongue of the peacemaker?

March 25th (Annunciation of B. V. M.)

Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, and stand not in the place of great men: for better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen.”—25:6, 7 (18:12; 29:23).

Interpretation.—Two acts of vanity are cautioned against, which might often be combined. The first, a display of glory and forwardness of manner in the presence of a sovereign, which he (an Eastern autocrat, e.g.) might be disposed to resent. The second, a seating oneself in the place which, of right, belonged to another higher in rank. The probable consequence of such acts would be degradation in the eyes of the very prince to be near whom had been the object of ambition. On the nobleman claiming his seat, the intruder would be curtly ousted from it, perhaps by the king himself, certainly in his presence, and be compelled (all other seats being occupied) “to take the lowest place.”

Illustrations.—What more beautifully illustrates the humility here commended, and the honor following, than the behavior of the blessed Virgin in the presence of Gabriel, at the Annunciation? What an utter absence of self-assertion; nay, what a trembling, awful sense of the presence of the great King, whose envoy Gabriel was! “She was troubled (not elated) at his saying.” Gladly would she have taken the lowest place. Called to come up higher, even to the highest place ever accorded to a human being, she meekly answered, “Be it unto me according to thy word.” Her genuine humility avoided the ostentation of an affected refusal, as displeasing to God as self-seeking (Isa. 7:10, etc.). And in her has been fulfilled the promise, “He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek.”

Application.—Our Lord applied these words to the courtesies of social life (Luke 14:10). But we see that He had a deeper allusion by the parable for which this prepared the way (Luke 14:15, etc.)—even to man’s final allotment in the supper of the kingdom of God. Hence, while as a matter of prudence I abstain from putting myself forward in social circles or in public life, and wait rather to be put forward by others—thus avoiding many a humiliation—let me aim also at something more. To “see the King in His beauty,”—is this my aim? To dwell in His presence,—is this my heart’s desire? Then let me take the lowest place among the penitents who sue for pardon and acceptance with God. Let me aim and pray to “be clothed with humility,” with that lovely grace as a habit. Then may I hope to be sent upward, and to take no proud leap involving a downfall.

March 26th

The way of the slothful man is as an hedge of thorns: but the way of the righteous is made plain.”—15:19 (22:13; 26:13).

Interpretation.—This proverb may be understood in two ways: That the slothful man, by not husbanding his resources and improving his opportunities, makes or increases his own difficulties in life. That, to excuse from trouble, he imagines or exaggerates obstacles. In whichever way we take it, the “slothful,” one who shirks the duty of labor, is contrasted with the “righteous,” who recognizes and endeavors to fulfil his duty. The latter finds difficulties grow less and less, and goes forward on a way which is, as it were, “paved” under his feet, a “highway” cast up before him.

Illustrations.—Contrast the spies and their depressing account of Canaan, with Caleb boldly facing the difficulties, and with Joshua overcoming them (Num. 13:27–33). Observe how the tribe of Dan, by not seizing their opportunity as directed, increased their future troubles, and planted “thorns in their own sides” (Lev. 26:7, 8; Judg. 1:3, 4; 2:3). Through sloth the ten tribes fell in with Jeroboam’s subtle suggestion, to their own and his hurt (1 Kings 12:30; 13:34). Eliezer going forward in faith and prayer, and Gideon in his strength, found their way made plain. Before Zerubbabel the mountains were levelled (Zech. 4:7). The “slothful” servant in the parable, wicked or unrighteous because slothful, raised a bugbear of his own to excuse his indolence to himself, which, however, failed to excuse it to his master (Matt. 25:24–27).

Application.—There is a temptation to exaggerate difficulties, nay, to create imaginary ones, which, if yielded to, paralyzes the energies. Especially is this the case when the duty before one is irksome or distasteful. A slothful man will shirk most of his duties under such a plea. But any one who begins to do this may soon become slothful. Let me ever set duty before me as the great business of life. The man of duty thinks no obstacles insurmountable, and finds none. By prayer and perseverance all are gradually overcome. No honest heart will invent “a hedge of thorns” or a “lion in the way,” nor readily give ear to such fables to excuse inertness. Yet nothing is more easy than for one who has no mind to labor to find pretexts for idleness. The risks to such are inevitable, they will increase, and prove fatal in the end. While all the time it is the voice of sloth within, whispering, “Spare thyself.” When tempted by this voice, let me bethink myself of the great deeds done, and how they were brought to pass. Mine be the way of the righteous, upon which God’s blessing rests. This, though not without thorns and lions, will prove safest, and become a paved causeway upon which I shall walk cheerily.

March 27th

The horse is prepared against the day of battle; but safety” (victory, vide margin) “is of the Lord.”—21:31.

Interpretation.—This proverb follows appropriately upon the preceding. In that we are taught that “no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel (can prevail) against Jehovah.” In this that human strength and reliance on human aid against our foes is useless without God’s blessing upon them. The war-horse, so eulogized by the Creator (Job 39:19–25), is a splendid sight as it stands caparisoned for battle; how much more a well-mounted force of cavalry! Yet shall these utterly fail to achieve victory unless God will it.

Illustrations.—The horse was forbidden to be used in battle among the Jews (Deut. 17:16), in order that they might ascribe the glory of their victories to Jehovah. Hence it was that Joshua houghed all the horses taken in battle (Josh. 11:6, 9). By Solomon this law was violated. And the national glory in battle began to wane from the time when this veto was disregarded. Defeat commenced from the very quarter of unwarranted confidence (comp. 1 Kings 10:26, 28, with 1 Kings 11:14–26 and 2 Chron. 12:8, 9). Sisera’s army, with its nine hundred chariots of iron, was easily defeated by Barak’s chosen force, not only without chariots or horses, but even disarmed (Judg. 5:8); so that the “victory” was seen to be “of the Lord.” The same was true of Gideon’s picked three hundred, and in both cases “their faith subdued kingdoms” (Heb. 11:32, 33). The renunciation of their confidence in horses marked a time of gracious acceptance for Israel (Hos. 14:3).

Application.—The newspapers often teem with speculations about war. But how seldom does the Lord of hosts appear to be taken into account! As a Christian, let me endeavor to supply the want I find in them. I ought to remember that victory is of God. True, the means must be employed, or God cannot be expected to bless our arms even in a righteous cause. It is a part of His moral government that good results do not ordinarily flow except from well-considered efforts. Therefore, as long as war is a necessity, there must be armies kept up, well disciplined and equipped. But this is not all. God can save without armies, but armies cannot conquer without Him. Hence, national prayer should always accompany national warfare. And since the many pray not, those who are prayerful must supply their places by redoubling their prayers. The principle applies no less to the spiritual combat. Vain are our efforts (redoubled, it may be, in Lent) to conquer the enemies of the soul, if we are looking to those efforts for success. The secret of victory must lie in the motto, “Through God we shall do great acts, and it is He that shall tread down our enemies.”

March 28th

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.”—11:30.

Interpretation.—“The fruit of the righteous” is that which proceeds from him, the outcome of a renewed heart. In temporal, still more in spiritual ways he is always communicating good to others. As the tree of life was in Paradise and will be in heaven, fruitful, nourishing, healing, even so is he in the sphere he occupies in the Church. The second clause of this sentence represents a more active and definite putting forth of energy for the special purpose of winning souls (who can doubt?) to God, in doing which a man will prove himself wise.

Illustrations.—It is at least probable that the “souls” which Abraham and his party “had gotten in Haran” (Gen. 12:5) were heathen servants who had become proselytes (they were afterwards circumcised, Gen. 17:27), through the holy influence of the patriarchs. The “devout soldier” who waited on Cornelius had doubtless been favorably disposed towards religion by his master’s example, and to him, as to the rest of his family, that good man became as a “tree of life,” while to St. Peter “the fisherman” (Luke 5:10) was granted the honor of winning all their souls to Christ (Acts 10:24, 44, 48). The Apostles set us the example of using every lawful means, and the wisest they knew of, to save souls, and did save many by bringing them into the fold of Christ.

Application.—Life is not long, therefore let the most be made of it. Having first given myself to God (2 Cor. 8:5), let me live not unto myself but for others. If wealth and position be mine, how much may I do in the course of a few years to relieve want and misery, and thus to conciliate others to Christianity! Or if mine be an obscure lot, yet, still, within my own circle, my influence may be beneficent. No true Christian can be as an upas tree, withering all within its shadow, nor yet as a barren tree doing nought for others’ good. The true follower of Jesus must needs resemble his Master in being, on a humbler scale, as a “tree of life,” a source of blessing to many. This from the spontaneous outcome of the life within. But more—I shall endeavor, layman though I may be, to win souls to God. Not by intruding into the office of the ministry, but by supporting and aiding it in all legitimate ways, and utilizing opportunities. How often may influence gained be employed for a soul’s good, a doubt removed, a word in season spoken! The wife may win her husband, the godly neighbor his fellow-man. And they who have been guiding stars upon earth shall shine as the stars (in a far wider sphere), for ever and ever (Dan. 12:3).

The life-work of the won, what is it but to win the lost?

March 29th

When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.”—16:7.

Interpretation.—This is one of those proverbs which, true in a general way and from the highest point of view, must be understood with limitations as regards this present life. “Enemies” (as is assumed) the good man will have. Even He Whose ways always pleased God had unrelenting ones. Nor will they always, and very seldom all, be conciliated in this world. However, the promise is sufficiently often fulfilled in history to make it proverbial, and will have a complete fulfilment hereafter, especially if we understand “to be at peace” as implying submission (Deut. 20:10, 11; Josh. 10:1).

Illustrations.—Esau, on Jacob’s ways becoming pleasing to God, was made to be at peace with him whose life he had once sought. Laban, who followed Jacob as an enemy, departed from him a friend. By an overruling providence, the nations surrounding Israel were restrained from desiring their land when they went up at the appointed seasons to appear before the Lord their God (Exod. 34:22, etc.). How was King Saul won over for a time by David’s magnanimity, and the proofs of God being on his side! And Saul of Tarsus, from breathing forth threatenings and slaughter, how was his heart turned, in the hands of God, towards the Christians whom he persecuted!

Application.—It must not be supposed that this text contradicts others which tell me that “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Both are true, as God’s words always must be. The one shows the native enmity of the human heart as against God, so also against His people. The other, the divine restraint which curbs that enmity, so that it shall not really “harm those that are followers of that which is good” (1 Pet. 3:13), and shall in the end work their good (Rom. 8:28), and also be for ever subdued (1 Cor. 15:25). I must expect enemies, and probably of my own household, if I make it always my first aim to please God. The Church will never be without them, yet has she her times of “rest,” and “the gates of hell shall not prevail” against her. I, too, as a member of the Church, must expect to share her lot. Let me not make foes gratuitously by injudicious, needless, ill-tempered opposition. Let me always have a conciliatory bearing, and to be ready to return evil with good. But if for conscience’ sake I am opposed, threatened, ill-treated, slandered, let me “commit myself to Him that judgeth righteously.” Let me hold fast my principles “without wavering,” and it may be God will so convince my enemies that He is with me, or so turn their hearts, that in time they shall become my friends. Or He will overrule their malignity for my good. In the end they shall come and worship at my feet, and know that He has loved me (Rev. 3:9).

March 30th

The wrath of a king is as messengers of death: but a wise man will pacify it. In the light of the king’s countenance is life; and his favor is as a cloud of the latter rain.”—16:14, 15 (19:12; 20:2).

Interpretation.—We have here the picture of an Eastern despot, “without law, above law, his own will his only law.” At his command are “messengers of death,” means and instruments manifold for crushing an offending subject. At the frown, still more at the threat of such a potentate, who would not be alarmed? An astute courtier, one who was about the king, might, however, be able to pacify him, would prove his wisdom by doing so. Then, should a gracious expression come over the king’s countenance, should he beam approbation upon his servant, it would be like life from the dead, and liberality such as becomes a sovereign might be expected to follow.

Illustrations.—Ahasuerus in his treatment of Haman, Solomon of Adonijah, Herod of John the Baptist, illustrate the swiftness, certainty, and deadly power of the sentence of an absolute monarch. At the threatening of such a one (the roaring of the lion), even so brave a veteran as Joab fled to the horns of the altar. Jonathan, however, with Saul, Daniel with Nebuchadnezzar, the people of Tyre and Sidon through Blastus with Herod Agrippa, had the wisdom to pacify wrath. Upon his butler, the countenance of Pharaoh, once so lowering, at last beamed favor, and to Esther the golden scepter must have been as “the latter rain,” an earnest of royal generosity to revive her fainting spirit.

Application.—“Absolute power is safe in no hands but those of God.” Yet the power for good or evil wielded by any sovereign is great, and I should pray that it may be used to discourage wickedness and to promote virtue and religion. Threatening and execution of justice belong to governments, as vicegerents of the Great King, and mercy is also their prerogative as His, not without limitations. I can only pacify the just resentment against offenders of the law under which I live by disproving the offence laid to my charge. I can only hope for mercy, if an offender, by proving extenuating circumstances in my behalf. So that my wisdom clearly is not to offend. But if this be so with human potentates, what is my wisdom as regards the King of kings? Alas! I cannot plead my innocence, nor put in a claim for mercy. Nor can I devise a way of pacifying His just wrath. What, then, shall I do? My only wisdom is to flee to “the man Christ Jesus,” Whose speaking blood hath pacified divine wrath, and pleadeth not in vain even for me. “He is our peace,” for atonement is by Him.

March 31st

He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread: but he that followeth vain persons is void of understanding.”—12:11 (20:21; 28:19, 20).

Interpretation.—The cultivation of the ground and keeping of flocks and herds being the main pursuits in early days, are naturally referred to in proverbs about industry. But the saying is true of all honest ways of getting a livelihood, that industry is the secret of success and satisfaction. Whereas, to be drawn away by idle company or to pursue unstable and (still worse) unrighteous means for producing income, is to prove oneself “void of understanding.”

Illustrations.—Jacob is a notable example of persevering honorable exertion blessed by God. The occupants of the cave of Adullam would seem to have been mostly men who preferred a life of change and chance to one of steadfast industry, and their choice was one that brought them trouble enough. In the prodigal son we have a striking picture of one who, through following vain persons, came even to want a piece of bread.

Application.—Sloth may have been a besetting sin of the Hebrews, but shirking of honest labor is confined to no nation. There is a laborious idleness which affects the air of business, and is specious enough to deceive many. Let me not be thus deceived, since God Himself deigns to warn me against it. It may take the form of sociability, gadding about and talking with a professed view to work, but without working. It may shelter itself under the pretext of frequenting sales and markets, while neglect of duties nearer home leaves little enough to sell or to buy. Not unfrequently it ends in downright dissipation, and that in abject poverty. Or windy speculations, by which riches are to be made in haste and without much trouble, are put in the place of the sober duties which earned the livelihood erewhile. Often the result is seen in a dazzling glitter of success for a little time, and then the thick darkness of disappointment and despair. More often still, there is the loss without even the temporary gain. And, not unfrequently, a lust of making gain is begotten, which issues in very questionable adventures, and dries up all the springs of the inner life. How much better to ply one’s appointed calling, and do one’s best in it! Industry is both an ornamental grace and a Christian obligation. It is also the way to competency. The sentence to eat bread in the sweat of thy face is a promise of at least a sufficiency. The commandment which gives a weekly rest enjoins six days of work.

Be it mine to labor for the meat that perisheth so as not to lose that which endureth unto eternal life.[1]

 

 

[1] Pearson, C. R. (1880). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 1, pp. 61–91). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)

Ash Wednesday

A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished.”—22:3 (14:16; 27:12).

Interpretation.—“Prudent” is a contraction of “provident,” which means “foreseeing.” “The evil” is any impending danger. “The simple” are heedless ones who neglect prudent precaution. Such, in the face of peril (which they might and ought to avoid), “go forward” and (as by a judicial mulct or fine) “are punished,” “suffer injury,” the consequence of their foolhardiness. While the “prudent” are spoken of in the singular, “the simple” are plural, to give us to understand that many simple ones are found for one prudent man.

Illustrations.—Noah—an exception to the “disobedient” of his day, who despised warning—“moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house.” There were among the servants of Pharaoh some who, prudently taking precautions against the threatened plague of hail, saved their cattle, and others who braved it to their great loss (Exod. 9:20, 21). Gedaliah contrasts with St. Paul, the one by prudent precautions averting an untimely death; the other, through his rash incredulity, incurring it (Jer. 40:13–16; 41:1, 2; Acts 23:17; etc.). Still more was that holy Apostle an example and a contrast to many in his solemn preparation for the day of judgment, as one who acted upon what he knew, and would fain “persuade” others (2 Cor. 5:9–11).

Application.—Frequent verifications of this saying meet us in life. We see character preserved or damaged, fortune secured or wrecked, life saved or lost, according as it is acted on or not. But by far its most important fulfilments are in what we see not—the destiny of the soul. Alas! what tremendous risks are run every day by the heedless many who pass by the Refuge (Isa. 32:2), and on in the road that leads to sure destruction! Even animal instinct is observant of times and seasons (Jer. 8:7). Even the ox must be driven to the slaughterhouse. But unwise souls “know not the judgment of the Lord” (Jer. 8:7), not discerning the signs of the times (Matt. 16:3), and run to meet their damnation. Why is this? The answer is given from above. “My people” (saith God Himself) “doth not consider” (Isa. 1:3). Want of prudence arises from want of thought. Hence, the Church has done kindly in setting apart seasons for special self-examination, recollectedness, and “looking forward,” of which Lent is one. I shall do well during these forty days to repair often to the secret chamber of prayerful meditation (Isa. 26:20), as well as to the courts of the Lord’s house, to seek, by penitence, confession, and reformation, for pardon from the Great Absolver, to enter upon a new life “hid with Christ in God,” to secure against the day of doom safety under the Almighty wings.[1]

 

 

[1] Pearson, C. R. (1880). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 1, p. 183). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)

Good Friday

I have stretched out My hand, and no man regarded.”—1:24.

Interpretation.—Solomon was an unconscious prophet. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he spake of mysteries which, if not entirely hidden from him, were doubtless only seen “as through a glass, darkly.” He spake of Christ as the eternal Son of God, and in the mystery of His incarnation. The Wisdom, in Whose Name he utters so many exhortations, can be no abstraction, is only to be identified with the Savior. So we interpret this passage. It is Jesus who, in loving zeal to save sinners, has stretched out His Hand. This He may be said to have done in many ways. The expression admits of various meanings, as the act referred to is a many-tongued symbol. It may be employed to enforce silence, to point out the way, to call to discipleship, to exert saving power, to confer benefits, to express affection. It would be true to say that Jesus stretched out His Hand by coming into the world, by teaching, by acts of healing, by whatever He said and did to win souls to God. But all was comprehended and epitomized (so to speak) in the great drama of the Crucifixion—that stupendous act of love, in which the God-man stretched forth both His Hands on the cross, as though to embrace the whole world, and attract all men unto Himself. And still that touching exhibition of divine love pleads with the world. And still the complaint is heard from those compassionate Lips, “All day long have I stretched forth My Hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Rom. 10:21).

Illustrations.—In “the place of concourse” (Prov. 1:21), where the multitude gathered around the cross of Christ, were seen two astounding spectacles. The God-man suspended between heaven and earth, nailed to the ignominious tree, His Hands outstretched as though to open His Heart to every lost child of Adam! Beneath that cross, an unconcerned or gibing multitude, to whom it was all as nothing (Lam. 1:12)! Later on, in Athens and Corinth and other great cities, the Apostle Paul might have been seen “stretching forth the hand” (Acts 26:1), to point perishing sinners to Christ crucified as their only hope. Alas! how little heeded was his message (1 Cor. 1:23)!

Application.—The Hands of the God-man were outstretched on the cross for me. The scarred Hand of the glorified One is still pointing me to the cross, that I may be saved. If I heed the invitation, that same Hand will one day beckon me to glory. Can I refuse such love? Can I turn a deaf ear to such an appeal? Can I pass by with the giddy throng on such a day as Good Friday, and not dwell in thought and prayer on the mysterious scene on Calvary?

Blessed Jesus, though no man regarded, yet will I. And do Thou regard me, unworthy that I am, and take me to Thy pierced Heart![1]

 

 

[1] Pearson, C. R. (1880). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 1, p. 184). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)

Easter Day

A just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again.”—24:16.

Interpretation.—The allusion here (as the context and the words employed prove) is solely to calamity or outrage at the hands of men. From this, however often a good man may succumb to it, he shall be delivered, and eventually put beyond its reach. Over the last of his trials he rises as conqueror.

Illustrations.—One will suffice. The righteous Man, Christ Jesus, was subjected, when upon earth, to many a malicious attack from wicked men. Doubtless the number and nature of these attacks had been all foreseen, and in a certain sense foreordained, in the councils of heaven. Nothing was done or could be done but what the divine hand and counsel had determined before to be done (Acts 4:28). Nevertheless, the responsibility of the persecutors rested with themselves alone. They lay in wait for Him, they endeavored more than once to stone Him, they drove Him from their cities, they obliged Him to hide Himself. He was at last taken prisoner at their hands, condemned and executed and put into a grave. The temple of His Body, His “dwelling,” His “resting-place” was (as far as human power could go) spoiled and destroyed (ver. 15). Doubtless they had often rejoiced over Him as fallen, and now they would conclude Him fallen, never to rise again. But “Resurgam” was written upon His tomb. Within three days He vanquished the last and direst of these assaults, and rose, to fall no more.

Application.—But few men comparatively pass through the world without enemies. It may be my lot, through no fault of my own, to have some. But if God be my friend—and if I am a Christian indeed He is my friend—then I need not fear. Again and again I may fall before their attacks, but in the end I shall be made to triumph. “He shall deliver (me) in six troubles, yea, in seven there shall no evil touch (me)” (Job 5:19). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a pledge to me of this. As “the disciple is not above his Master,” so I must not expect to be exempt from human hostility, if He were not. “The disciple is not above his Master; it is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master” (Matt. 10:24). Again, “Every one who is perfect” (i.e. fully instructed) “shall be as his Master” (Luke 6:40). Blessed Jesus, what more could I hope for? To be as Thou wert, stricken down again and again by malignant foes? Yes, but to be also as Thou wert, raised up continually, and at last to stand for ever victorious over all. Oh, let me look forward to the great Easter Day! With that in view, I may challenge even a deadly persecutor to do his worst, exclaiming, in faith and hope, “Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy; when I fall, I shall arise!” (Micah 7:8).[1]

 

 

[1] Pearson, C. R. (1880). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 1, p. 185). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)

Ascension Day

The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath.”—15:24.

Interpretation.—“The way of life” is the way that leads to life—to life in its truest sense upon earth, to the life of glory hereafter. This way must needs tend upwards, heavenwards. It is chosen and pursued to the end by the wise and understanding in heart, as the opposite to that way which leads to hell beneath. The Jews termed this “Sheol”—a word applied indiscriminately as “Hades” with us, to the after state of the dead, but with a notion of punishment for the wicked, as is clearly intended both here and at 7:27; 9:18. Our text also implies the notion of a heaven for the righteous. These two goals of life were undoubtedly before the mind of the pious Jew, though with less light shed upon them previous to the Gospel revelation.

Illustrations.—The idea of progress in the spiritual life is given by the expression used of Enoch and Noah, that they “walked with God.” David outlined the same doctrine when he spake of the God-fearing of his day as going “from strength to strength,” and at last appearing “every one of them before God in Zion” (Ps. 84:7). The Apostles would appear to have made steady progress in grace, e.g. St. Peter acquiring humility and true courage, St. John tempering zeal with love, St Thomas overcoming the tendency of a desponding cast of mind to doubt. A steady downward course is observable, on the other hand, in such men as Ahab, Judas, Demas.

Application.—“Excelsior” must be my motto as a Christian, and that in the highest sense. There are many who go through life with a steadfast wish and purpose to rise in the world. But how few are equally bent upon rising above the world! To this, however, my baptism pledges me. This I am exhorted to, and attempt, in Holy Communion (Sursum corda). The ascension of Christ, my Head, ought to draw me, as one of His members, heavenwards. Doubtless, the way is steep and difficult. To scale the heavens I must have a nature given me above my own. But am I not made a partaker of the divine nature by union with the God-man? Away, then, all low and mean objects, all poor and trivial aims in life! Be it mine to follow in the steps of those holy men of old who have all trod the same way, and achieved the like success. All have had respect to God in their actions. All have lived as citizens of heaven. To all it has been given in time to “mount up with eagles’ wings.” Why should not I? Let my eyes be upon God, my thoughts on eternity. No worldly thing seems great to him whose treasure is above. Aiming at holiness, I shall add grace to grace. If now in heart and mind I ascend, with Jesus, into the heavens, I shall at last attain to glory.[1]

 

[1] Pearson, C. R. (1880). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 1, p. 186). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)

Whitsun Day

I will pour out My Spirit unto you.”—1:23.

Interpretation.—Who is the speaker? Christ, “the Wisdom of God.” A Person it must be. For how could an attribute be represented as acting an independent part? “If these words (it has been well said) express not a Person, and that a Divine Person, Holy Scripture gives us no due apprehension of anything whatever.” Who is it that pours out the Holy Spirit but He who said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink” (John 7:37, 39)? As here He says, “Turn you at My reproof,” etc., so there, tacitly reproving them for seeking to quench their soul-thirst at earthly pools, He exhorts them to turn to Him, and they shall have abundant supplies of “living water.” The addresses of Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs touch closely upon the discourses of Christ in the Gospel of St. John.

Illustrations.—At the reproof uttered by St. Peter on the day of Pentecost many turned to the Lord, and He poured out His Spirit unto them, according to the prophecy of Joel (Joel 2:28). From the world before the Flood (Gen. 6:3), and from the Jews resisting God’s reproof (Isa. 63:10), the Holy Spirit was withdrawn, as it will be from Christians on whom it is bestowed in larger measure (2 Cor. 3:8) and as a covenant blessing (1 Cor. 12:13), if they utterly reject or grieve Him beyond forgiveness (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19).

Application.—The promise is connected with a command: “Turn you at My reproof.” But I may say, “How can I turn?” So might the man with the withered hand have asked, “How can I stretch it forth?” He made the effort, and found the power given. My first step, then, must be, would I obtain the proffered grace, to exert my own will in breaking loose from evil habits. The reproof which these call down from God’s Word, and ministers, and conscience, has entered into my ear. Let it also operate upon my life. Let me do what I can, and I shall be enabled to do more. The command is given, not to make the promise unnecessary, but to send us to it for help. The promise is given, not to supersede the command, but to encourage us in the effort to obey. When we turn at His reproof, He will pour out His Spirit. When He pours it out we shall turn. Experience proves this truth, which to human reason seems like reasoning in a circle. It was attested on the day of Pentecost, and I, even I, may make proof of it if I will. There has been ever since within the Christian Church a pouring forth of the Spirit through various conduits, the ordained means of grace. Let me avail myself of these, at the same time turning away from sin and turning to Jesus, and doubtless I shall be daily renewed in my heart, and the saving truths of the Gospel will be made known unto me.[1]

 

 

[1] Pearson, C. R. (1880). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 1, p. 187). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)

Trinity Sunday

Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.”—2:5.

Interpretation.—The word “then” refers us back to the conditions under which this understanding and knowledge are to be acquired. They may be summed up as humble, earnest, patient, persevering, diligent search after wisdom. Then “the fear of the Lord” and “the knowledge of God” will be apprehended.

Illustrations.—To the descendants of Seth, the holy seed, seeking to know God, a clearer revelation (it would seem) was made of Him. He was revealed to them by that Name (Jehovah) which is His covenant Name with man (Gen. 4:26). To Abraham, obeying His Word and following Him in childlike faith, many were the revelations made of God, and even a distant view was given him of the mystery of the Incarnate Son (John 8:56). To Jacob, wrestling in prayer, though the incommunicable Name was withheld from him (Gen. 32:29; Rev. 19:12), there were fresh revelations made, or he never could have said “I have seen God face to face” (Gen. 32:30). To Moses, pleading earnestly for a view of the divine glory, additional revelations were vouchsafed of the attributes, not only of God, but of God in Christ (Exod. 33:18; 34:5). Furthermore, was it not to the Apostles leaving all to follow Jesus, to the Bereans and Ethiopian searching diligently the Scriptures, to Cornelius seeking with prayer and alms to learn God’s mind, that discoveries were granted of the Triune God, as now revealed?

Application.—To finite minds the revelation of an infinite Being must needs be limited. We can never know all, but only as much as we can receive, and as God is pleased to reveal about Himself. But it is a duty, as well as a privilege, to know all we can. What He makes known, however, is not to gratify curiosity, but to educate our souls for heaven. Nor is it theoretical only but practical knowledge of Him we need. Right notions of His nature and character are essential to our religion, our worship, our salvation. Without them we might go far astray, as the heathen have done, and deify human vices. We are indebted to dogmatic truth, as handed down by the Church, and enshrined in the Creeds, for correct conceptions of the Deity so far as He has hitherto made Himself known to mankind. The dogma of the Trinity in Unity, though ever inexplicable, is ever to be received and cherished with devout faith and awe. But let me not forget that to know about God is not to know God. To be an orthodox Trinitarian is not necessarily to be a true Christian. Experimental knowledge of God as my Father, of the Son as my Savior, of the Holy Ghost as my Sanctifier,—this I must aim to have. And this I shall have in proportion as I “follow on to know the Lord” (Hos. 6:3).[1]

 

 

[1] Pearson, C. R. (1880). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 1, p. 188). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)

April

April 1st

The hope of the righteous shall be gladness: but the expectation of the wicked shall perish.”—10:28 (11:7).

Interpretation.—A comparison of this proverb with its fellow (11:7) shows that no contrast is intended between “hope” and “expectation”. The words in the original are probably synonymous. But if not, yet hope admits of degrees; and at times, and under some circumstances, the hope of the godless may be even more confident than that of the righteous. “The hope of the righteous,” however, “is” present “gladness” to him, which is not asserted of the other’s hope or even expectation. And in the future the contrast will be made absolute and perpetual, for in its fruition the hope of the righteous will be gladness indeed, while “the hope,” amounting even to “expectation,” of the wicked when he dieth shall perish.

Illustrations.—Of Abraham our Lord tells us (John 8:56) that he rejoiced to see His day—“exulted” in the prospect—and “he saw it” (in faith) and “was glad.” His hope brought him a present gladness; how immensely increased must that have been when he saw Jesus Himself (in paradise), and how will it be intensified in heaven! To the hope of the devout Simeon and Anna the same observations will apply. Contrast Balaam’s hope to “die the death of the righteous” with the hopeless death he did eventually die. The “rich fool” is a warning picture of how suddenly worldly expectations come to an end.

Application.—What is the foundation difference between the righteous and the wicked? The one builds his life upon a sure, the other upon an unwarrantable, hope. The one lives by “faith,” which “is the substance of things hoped for;” the other by “sight” of things which are all passing away. For “worldly hopes are not living, but lying hopes and dying hopes.” The godless man has often a fitful, unrestful kind of pleasure in the prospect of successes, but when attained he finds that he has grasped a shadow which, ere long, vanishes. Yea, as regards the eternal future, none are more hopeful often than those who have no good ground of hope; these “have no bands in their death;” they will even plead and justify themselves at the gate of heaven (Matt. 25:11; 7:27). Alas! all in vain, for the “hope of the hypocrite” (Job 8:13), as well as “the expectation of the wicked, shall perish.” But who so buoyed up upon “the waves of this troublesome world” by a good and sure hope (not unvarying, indeed, but always “living”) as the man who has ventured his all upon Christ? Doth not his earnest expectation wait for the manifestation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19)? Doth he not rejoice in (that) hope (Rom. 12:12)? Hath he not songs in the night (Job 35:10)? Is he not willing to “wait,” giving up all (if need be) for the unspeakable things God hath prepared?

April 2nd

The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable: but the mouth of the wicked speaketh frowardness.”—10:32 (16:24).

Interpretation.—The “good man out of the good treasure of the heart” brings forth what is acceptable to God and man, words good and true, but also full of grace and tact. Whereas, the wicked out of a perverse heart speaketh perversion—words which are injurious to man and displeasing to God. For as (16:23) “The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth,” so is it with the heart of the wicked.

Illustrations.—Gideon displayed great tact and temper in his reply to the upbraidings of the men of Ephraim, and so averted a quarrel (Judg. 8:2, 3). Abigail, by her wise and conciliatory speech, both dissuaded David from a vindictive enterprise and rendered herself acceptable to him (1 Sam. 25:23–33). Daniel is a praiseworthy example of a messenger from God delivering unpalatable truths in a way to win for them acceptance (Dan. 4:27), and Philip of a teacher engaging the attention and convincing the minds of his hearers (Acts 8:5, 6, 35). But who can compare with Jesus, our great Exemplar, Whose lips, so “full of grace and truth” (Ps. 45:2), not only made men wonder (Luke 4:22), but attracted listening crowds, and won souls to God (Luke 15:1)?

Application.—The gift of eloquence to move listening multitudes is bestowed only upon the few. But the gift alluded to in this proverb is possessed, or might be, by every true Christian in a greater or less degree. It may be mine, it ought to be, to speak truth in an acceptable manner. The secret is to speak it “in love” (Eph. 4:25). And as love is of the essence of Christianity, this gift should be more common than it is. Love will give humility, which conciliates; gentleness, which wins; sympathy, which attracts; earnestness, which lays hold of; tact, which beguiles the hearer. Possessed of love, true love, I shall “know how to speak the word in season;” how to administer reproof, itself a bitter medicine, in the honey of kind words; how to answer the captious with a soft word (not weak and tame) and hard arguments; how to maintain truth “in the meekness of wisdom,” without compromise; how to accommodate my mode of speech to various classes of mind, forbearing with lesser prejudices, avoiding needless offence. There is a tact which is an instinct of the new nature, a wit the fruit of a regenerate mind. He who gives the “grace” will give also the seasoning of “salt.” Kind words, as a rule, go furthest. Harsh words neither please nor profit. “A flattering mouth worketh ruin” (26:28). Words out of a wicked heart may poison generations to come.

April 3rd

When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.”—11:2 (15:33; 16:18; 18:12).

Interpretation.—Arrogance is inevitably succeeded by shame. Elation of spirit precedes a downfall (16:18). But with the humble is wisdom. The wisdom which is itself honor, which confers honor, which saves from disgrace,—this follows upon and is the result of humility (15:33; Ps. 25).

Illustrations.—Holy Scripture teems with illustrations of the above. The judgment upon Korah and his party; the signal downfall of Haman; the disgrace which fell upon Nebuchadnezzar, “while the word (of arrogance) was in the king’s mouth;” the miserable end of Herod accepting honor due to God only;—all these are proofs that the “proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord” (16:5). On the contrary, David’s humility in waiting was rewarded with a throne. Gideon who thought himself “least” in his father’s house” (Judg. 6:15), and St. Paul who owned himself “less than the least of all saints” (Eph. 3:8), were enabled to do a great and glorious work in their several ways. “When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel” (Hos. 13:1). The wondrous Child, sitting at the feet of His own creatures, astonished all by His wisdom.

Application.—“Pride was not made for men” (Ecclus. 10:18). Yet it was man’s first sin, and is generally the last to be got rid of. It vanquished angels. To vanquish it the Son of God came down from heaven. Through His humiliation, man, prostrated by pride, ascends again to God. But what is pride? The thinking of oneself more highly than one ought to think. From this results the claiming of respect undue, the denying of that which is due. And this brings shame in time. It is expensive, and lands in ruin. It is contentious, and leads to reprisals. It is blind, and ere long stumbles. It is unbecoming, and calls down reproach. It is a complicated wickedness God hates and counterworks and takes the punishment of into His own hands. It touches His honor to humble it. And it is appropriately punished by ignominy, by error in counsel, by failure in event. “This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” Through prosperity remissness follows, through carnal security encroachments. Never do we fall into a great sin but first there has been pride. Man hates it too—in others. All men cry shame upon pride. It attracts reproach, it courts confusion. How much wiser, safer, happier, to be humble! To whom hath God respect but to the lowly? Whom do men delight to honor but such as shrink from honor? Who so safe from downfall as they who shun the heights? Who so peaceful as they who have no ambition but to be good?

April 4th

The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead.”—11:8 (21:18).

Interpretation.—God’s overruling providence often so orders events in this world, as that while the good man is delivered, the godless falls before the same danger. Or He cuts off the wicked to prevent their injuring the righteous. Or He makes the wicked a substitute, a kind of piacular victim, for the comparatively righteous, so that they may escape. In death “the righteous is taken away from the evil to come” (Isa. 57:1), and the wicked (his enemy) succeeds to a heritage of trouble, from which even death will not deliver him.

Illustrations.—Notable instances of bad men changing places with good are Daniel’s persecutors taking his place in the lions’ den; Haman hanging upon the gallows prepared by himself for Mordecai; St. Peter’s gaoler and persecutors suffering the fate for which they had been keeping him. A Jonah was sacrificed that others not guilty as he was might escape. For the deliverance of David a whole nation was brought into distress (1 Sam. 23:25–28). Herod, having dismissed a saint to glory for the sake of Herodias, became the victim of that bad woman’s ambition.

Application.—Surely this proverb is both for warning and encouragement. For warning, inasmuch as it teaches that retributive judgments may be expected at God’s hand. That they do not invariably follow up crimes committed by man against man is because divine justice manifests itself in the world only as a prelude, not perfectly and finally. Their occurrence is, however, frequent enough to establish a general rule, and to supply a moral motive. One reason out of many (itself sufficient) why I should not attempt to injure my neighbor is the probability that in the course of events he and I may change places, or what I design for him may in some way fall upon me. Certainly the time will come when all malevolent purposes shall recoil upon the head of him who schemed them. Death and judgment will reveal to the most successful plotter against his brethren what he may have affected to doubt, that “Verily there is a God that judgeth the earth.” On the other hand, what encouragement to the godly to know that his God will deliver him from trouble eventually! So precious are His saints in God’s eyes, that He gives men for them (Isa. 43:3, 4). He has often sacrificed the wicked that He might save His own people. He has blinded the enemies of the Church to allow of an escape from their fury. He has reversed the lots of the triumphant and the afflicted even in this life.

Therefore let my faith be strong in the justice of my God when sight fails and experience seems at fault!

April 5th

When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth: and when the wicked perish, there is shouting.”—11:10 (ver. 11; 29:2).

Interpretation.—A fact is here asserted. Its explanation, given in the next verse, furnishes the moral. The rule and influence of good men in a state is the cause of its exaltation. Hence public joy when such men are promoted and prosper. On the contrary, the counsels, maxims, sentiments of wicked men are politically most injurious. Hence public joy when such are removed from their posts. The moral, supplied by inference, is that it is the duty of every patriot to get good men advanced to posts of trust and honor; to keep bad men out of them.

Illustrations.—Contrast the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah, and the honor paid to Hezekiah in life and death, with the dishonor earned by his father. See how Josiah was loved and lamented, while Jehoram “departed without being desired;” and how when Athaliah was slain, “all the people of the land rejoiced.” So, too, on Haman’s death and Mordecai’s advancement, “the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad.” Both Elijah and Elisha, by their prayers and counsels, were the real defense of their country—“the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof” (2 Kings 2:12; 13:14).

Application.—Patriotism is the home feeling, the home love intensified, extended. Every good man is a lover of home—is a patriot. The Christian has Jesus for his example, Who labored, wept, and died for His country. Hence, as a Christian, I cannot be indifferent to politics. Being satisfied that “righteousness exalteth a nation,” I must desire that good men shall bear rule and take part in the national councils. I must feel the immense gain to the country of a sovereign who is really “religious.” For the former I must reserve my vote and influence, for the latter unceasingly pray. Who can doubt that in any circle of society good men are blessings and bad men nuisances? But in places of public trust and power, how greatly is the advantage or the evil increased! How often have the decline and fall of states been due to the misgovernment or unscrupulous advice of unprincipled men! Good citizens make others, yea, the whole community, sharers of their prosperity; they are the salt of the land, saving it from corruption; they draw down blessings upon it by their prayers. But the wicked, especially if he be exalted, will soon pull down more than the righteous can build up, though the one die lamented while the other be hissed out of his place and “shoutings” follow him to his grave (Job 27:23).

April 6th

Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.”—11:14 (15:22; 24:6).

Interpretation.—The word here rendered “counsel” means literally “pilotage of a ship by ropes.” We meet with this maritime metaphor elsewhere in this Book (1:5; 20:18), owing, perhaps, to the naval enterprise of Solomon’s time. Two provisos must be understood: First, that the counsel given be wise and good. Secondly, that the people accept and follow it. The case in view is that of a state ungoverned, or ruled by a self-confident autocrat, either by his own solitary judgment or with the aid of a favorite. But the caution also applies to any institution, or to an individual’s own private affairs.

Illustrations.—Rehoboam, in spite of counsellors, took his own headstrong course, and ten parts of the people fell away from the throne. When Jehoiada the good counsellor was removed, the people fell under the influence of evil counsel (2 Chron. 24:17, 18). In the dark times of the judges, when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” the people fell oftentimes into their enemies’ hands. But David and Solomon governed by wise counsellors, and made the nation respected among the nations. The Levite from Bethlehem-judah, smarting under a gross outrage, did wisely in taking advice to ask advice (Judg. 19:30; 20:7). The Church of Christ, by united counsels, averted a great schism (Acts 15:6, 31).

Application.—Experience has taught the advantage of deliberative assemblies for the making of laws and decision of governments. And further, that it is better these should be not entirely of one complexion, but should represent various and even opposite opinions. “Many eyes can see more than one eye,” and from many minds many ideas proceed. There is danger of public interests being sacrificed to private where the will of one or only of a few prevails. There is comparative safety in deliberate, extensive, diversified consultation. A too limited council may easily become a cabal. But this, a fair representative council of sufficient proportions is not likely to become. There should be mutual consultation, with a view to mutual co-operation. At the same time, no council is infallible, and the guidance of the Great Counsellor (Isa. 9:6) is therefore always to be invoked. As a good citizen, I shall not neglect to join heartily in Church in the prayer for the Parliament and the lords of the Council. And in my own private matters or the affairs of others with which I may have to do, would it not be wise, as a rule, to ask advice of those competent to give advice? For if they agree, my way will be the more clear. If they differ, the hearing both sides will enable me the better to decide. In either case, I shall not go wrong through self-confidence.

April 7th

The wicked worketh a deceitful work: but to him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward.”—11:18 (10:2, 16; 11:4).

Interpretation.—The result of the wicked man’s work deceives himself, for “treasures of wickedness profit nothing,” least of all “in the day of wrath.” But the reward of the righteous follows as certainly upon his work as fruit upon seed-sowing, and his “labor tendeth to life,” to true happiness and prosperity, both in this world and in the next.

Illustrations.—Neither Ahab nor Gehazi gained the satisfaction they anticipated from their several godless schemings in respect of Naboth and Naaman. But Noah’s patient continuance in well-doing brought rest and salvation in the end. Simeon and Anna were not disappointed in their long waiting and praying for the Messiah. St. Paul reaped the reward of his ministerial sowing in the abundance of converts granted him, and the “sure and certain hope” with which he contemplated eternity. The liberality of the two centurions was rewarded tenfold into their bosom (Luke 7:2, etc.; Acts 10:4, etc.). The rich fool’s selfish work was all frustrated by death.

Application.—As the blind man, when only half cured, saw “men as trees walking,” so are we all naturally under strange, misleading illusions. We see not things as they really are, but as the god of this world, who blindeth the minds of them that believe not (2 Cor. 4:4), would have us see them. Hence, left to myself, I shall be cheated out of my soul by working for spurious gain and a deceptive reward. The Bible warns of impositions sure to be practiced upon us, and the salve of the Holy Spirit is offered that we may detect them (Rev. 3:18). And when the naked truth is seen, oh, then all sin ceases to attract, by appearing in its true colors. Who would seek for pleasure or profit in wickedness, were he convinced that neither the one nor the other would prove real and lasting? Who would not sow righteousness, were he able to realize the certainty and grandeur of its reward? I must take God’s Word as my guide, and pray for the “single eye,” that I may not fall a victim to Satan’s wiles and phantasmagoria (Matt. 4:8). Guided by the Word of truth, I see (how plainly!) “the deceitfulness of sin.” I see the securities laid up in heaven for the saints. I see that life is sowing-time for eternity, and that just as I sow shall I reap. Nay, have I not too often experienced a reward within myself, if not without, following upon an act of justice or of mercy, to doubt which way righteousness tendeth? And what fruit (except disappointment and fear) have I had in those things whereof I am ashamed?

Oh, then, for grace to lay hold of realities, and let go shadows!

April 8th

The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful shall be under tribute.”—12:24 (10:4; 13:4; 22:29).

Interpretation.—“The hand of the diligent and the slothful (hand)” represent severally the diligent and slothful man. The first becomes rich and powerful, comparatively so at least; the second fails in carrying out his desires, and remains or sinks into a state of servitude, while his energetic neighbor rises far above his station, even to be the valued associate of great men, ay, of kings.

Illustrations.—Of individuals (as of nations) the above proverb is true. Jeroboam’s first step on the ladder of promotion was through Solomon taking notice of his industry, and on that account making him a ruler (1 Kings 11:28). The energy of Saul and Jonathan is commemorated by David, and compared to that of the eagle and the lion (2 Sam. 1:23). Pharaoh chose out “men of activity” from among the Israelites to be preferred above their fellows (Gen. 47:6). The faithful servant in the parable becomes a “ruler over many things,” while the “slothful” is deprived even of that which he had, and pays tribute to his brother.

Application.—To wish to rise in the world, by lawful means, is an honorable ambition, approved by Holy Scripture. Else why such incentives to industry as those here and elsewhere set before us? It is not, indeed, given to many to ascend out of their sphere, but all may hope to rise within it, and ought to try. For diligence is not a moral virtue separate from religion, but a component part of it. Our blessed Lord pursued His glorious avocation upon earth regardless of rest, indifferent to meat and drink. His Apostle charges Christians to be “not slothful in business,” and severely condemns idleness. God has affixed conditions to success in any calling, and one of the first of these is industry. This is more to be relied on than brilliancy of parts, and often supplies their place. Doubtless he who has both combined with character, will rise the highest, and may even become a favorite at court and stand before kings, to whom despatch and energy are most acceptable. But without soaring so high, I may count upon the reward attached to exact, conscientious, persevering discharge of duty in whatsoever my hand findeth to do. I shall rise, win influence, respect, independence, it may be power. And if this be so in worldly matters, not less is it in spiritual. Through indolent acquiescence and slothful remissness I may easily become a slave to sin. But in proportion to the energies of the spiritual life will be my nearness to the throne of God. And oh, what happiness (far beyond that of Solomon’s servants), to stand continually before the King of kings, and hear His wisdom (1 Kings 10:8)!

April 9th

Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.”—12:25.

Interpretation.—Sorrow, anxiety, disappointment,—these are a load upon the spirit, a weight upon the heart, which cause depression and melancholy. But how often will a word of kindness, or good news, or a comforting assurance, spoken in the ear in season, not only banish despondency, but cause gladness to take its place!

Illustrations.—Jacob experienced at times great heaviness of heart, which was relieved by good words from heaven, from his brother, and from his son. Ezra and Nehemiah, in their patriotic ardour, became deeply distressed and sore afraid; but a word of promise from the people and from the king restored their spirits (Ezra 9; 10; Neh. 1; 2). Of David, “the woman that was a sinner,” and other penitents, how was their overwhelming sorrow turned into joy by the word of absolution! The widow of Nain’s stooping heart was lifted up by the Word which restored her son to her. St. Paul speaks words of truest comfort to the bereaved, when he assures them (on divine authority) that those who have fallen asleep in Jesus are not to be sorrowed for without hope, because they will reappear and be recognized and reunited to their friends in the day of the Lord’s coming (1 Thess. 4:13, etc.).

Application.—“Man is born to trouble.” I see this saying confirmed in the sorrow-stricken countenances, dejected mien, and worn frames of my fellow-creatures. I hear it in their deep-drawn sighs and desponding accents. I cannot hope to escape it myself altogether; perhaps I ought not to hope it. It may come from worldly cares and anxieties; the difficulty of keeping clear of debt is a very fruitful cause. Or it may arise from disappointed expectations, the displeasure of those placed over me, the loss of friends. Or it may come (and ought it not?) from an awakened sense of sin, and just terror of God’s wrath, and repeated failures in efforts against temptation. Whatever the cause may be, how cheering and consolatory to my drooping spirit will be a good word of the right sort! A word of encouragement to stimulate to fresh exertions; a word of praise to wipe out past blame; the good news of a friend in time of need; above all, the word of absolution to the sin-burdened soul, “the comfortable words” of Eucharistic peace to the weary soul, the word of one who, having himself been comforted in trouble, is able to comfort others (2 Cor. 1:4);—how precious and heart-reviving are these! And if I find them so, shall I not take pains to become myself a “son of consolation”? Shall I not ask of God that “tongue of the learned,” which Jesus so eminently possessed? (Isa. 1:4)? Shall I grudge a kind and cheering word to one who needs it? Will it not be my pleasure to “comfort them that are cast down”?

April 10th

There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.”—13:7 (12:9).

Interpretation.—The literal meaning of this sentence is determined by its verb, which signifies in the original, “to wish to appear to be.” We must, therefore, understand it to apply, in the first place, to those who, being (really) poor, affect the display of the wealthy; and, in the second place, to those who, being wealthy, affect the meanness of poverty. There is a figurative or spiritual sense also in which these words may be understood. There is the man who asserts his wealth, yet is miserably poor in all that constitutes true wealth. There is the man who avows himself poor, yet hath great riches, and those of the highest kind.

Illustrations.—In the latter sense only does Holy Scripture furnish apt illustrations of this text, though they abound in the world. How abjectly poor was Ahab, though a boastful monarch, who could not make himself happy—who seemed to himself as though he had nothing—without his neighbor’s vineyard! How poor did Zacchæus seem to make himself in the eyes of the world! yet how truly rich was he that day when he won the hearts of the poor and found salvation! To the Church of Smyrna it is the Lord who says, “I know thy poverty, but thou art rich.” To the Church of Laodicea, “Thou sayest, I am rich, … and knowest not that thou art poor” (Rev. 2:9; 3:17).

Application.—Let me avoid the folly of those who affect more means and a higher station than they can afford, at the expense of real comfort and (did they but know it) real respect. Affectation is always contemptible, and “shabby gentility” is an affectation. A man is respected for what he is, not for what his ancestors were, and in acknowledged poverty rather than in fictitious opulence. He who exerts himself as a man will generally earn enough and to spare, and though accounted among the poor, have more domestic comforts than his ambitious but impecunious neighbor. Labor not ancestry, virtue not pomp, ability not money, mark out the admirable man. He is really rich who courts nothing; and he is poor whose desires are inordinate. A love of empty display proclaims emptiness within, and often leads to an empty purse and larder. But who more respected than he who, without ostentation, by his own diligence, is always able to find the means of doing good? Let me equally avoid the pretense of being richer than I am, to gain temporary distinction; and the pretense of being poorer than I am, to escape just claims upon my income.

And, oh, above all, to be rich in good works while poor in spirit!

April 11th

Good understanding giveth favor: but the way of transgressors is hard.”—13:15.

Interpretation.—There have been other renderings of this text, but our translation is the best supported. By “good understanding” is meant that wisdom which comes from God alone, and is learnt in the experience of true religion. This brings favor with God and man, and makes the way of life “pleasantness and peace,” as compared with that of the transgressor. His way is emphatically “hard,” like a much-trodden highway, like a craggy precipice, which leads, moreover, to destruction.

Illustrations.—Abraham, by prudence, courtesy, and high character, secured the respect of the neighboring nations, though heathen (Gen. 23:11). Joseph, Joshua, David, Daniel, are all instances of men who, by their religious principle, both pleased God and obtained favor and influence with men. “The child Samuel,” who early chose the service of Jehovah, was “in favor both with the Lord and also with men.” Of One far greater, “the holy Child Jesus,” the same significant fact is stated. But look at Jacob’s path after he had deviated from rectitude, although he repented and was restored! How “hard” he had made it for himself! Look at Jonah fretting beneath the gourd—his peace of mind gone! Look still more at those habitual transgressors—Samson, Saul, the prodigal son in the parable—and see on what sharp stones they walked in the ways of sin, and how they forfeited the favor alike of God and man!

Application.—Nothing is more certain than that in the way, as well as in the end, religion has immensely the advantage over sin. So that I am asked not only to consult my happiness in the future, but in the present also, when I am urged to become religious. For thus I enter upon a path which, though not so attractive as some others at the commencement, improves stage by stage, and conducts to certain glory. Whereas, the pathway of sin, flowery and broad at first, becomes gradually more and more rugged and bare till it ends in a frightful abyss. Men will not, as a rule, believe this on hearsay, but all who have tried either one or both will confirm the evidence; and what more trustworthy witness can be had? However, let me try for myself “the good and the right way,” and surely I shall find it what it has been represented. It will secure me the respect of my fellow-men; for the world, while it hates, respects true godliness. It will obtain for me the favor of God and of all who love Him. I shall escape the thousand inflictions which transgressors call down by their misdoings, and by which their lives are embittered. I shall avoid the pitfall of perdition, which lies at the end of a godless career.

April 12th

Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.”—13:10.

Interpretation.—The meaning is that nothing but contention ensues where pride is at work, for that is its inevitable fruit. But with those who are willing to receive counsel is wisdom; and humility, which is true wisdom, is the mother of concord.

Illustrations.—Dathan’s pride of birth, for he was Reuben’s representative, while Moses was only of Levi’s family, moved him to contend with the great lawgiver in the spirit of Diotrephes. The Ephraimites through wounded pride, and Amaziah through vain-glory, brought bloodshed upon their land (Judg. 12:1–6; 2 Kings 14:8–10). The proud longing for precedence created strife among the Apostles. Rehoboam’s self-sufficiency and lust of power divided his people, but afterwards he showed wisdom in being well advised by Shemaiah (1 Kings 12:22–24). How meekly and wisely did Abraham restore peace in his camp by conceding his strict rights! Gideon, too, by “a soft answer” turned away wrath. It was through being well advised by the Apostles that the multitude of early Christians, when a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews arose, chose the first deacons from the party who felt themselves aggrieved, thus allaying the strife (Acts 6:1–7).

Application.—Pride assumes many forms, and under each one stirs up contention. Now, it is the wish to lord it over others; now, resentment at being advised or governed. At one time it betrays itself by a touchy impatience and readiness to take offence; at another by a lofty disregard of the opinions or feelings of others. Its root is egoism, an undue estimate of self. Its cure is self-knowledge, to become aware of infirmities and ignorance. Excuses are made for pride—it is becoming, proper, manly. When, however, I reflect that it has been the origin of all quarrels and wars, of “war in heaven” even, and of all heresies and schisms, do I not perceive its enormity? And when I contrast the proud with the God-man in His “great humility,” how utterly contemptible does this vice appear! But did not Jesus thus come to us that we might be delivered from pride and “clothed with humility”? And is not salvation ours in proportion as we are being saved from pride? Now, one evidence of humility is the willingness to ask counsel and take it at God’s mouth and man’s. Not to depend on one’s own unaided judgment; for how little this becomes poor fallible man! Let me practice the habit of consulting those whom to consult is wise, and I shall be saved from many quarrels and mistakes. “Pride,” it has been well said, “is the inmost coat we put on first and put off last.” Too true, but—

O my Savior, I would put on Thee, and to that end cast off pride!

April 13th

Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.”—13:12 (10:28; 11:30; 13:19).

Interpretation.—Hope (the accomplishment of which is) deferred maketh sick the heart: but when (the accomplishment of) the desire cometh, it is as a tree of life (the tree, e.g., that was “in the midst of the garden”), to heal the heart and impart new life and gladness.

Illustrations.—Abraham, “against hope believing in hope” of a posterity “as the sand upon the seashore,” while yet he went childless for many years, must often have been heartsick. But when a son was born to Sarah, in the exuberance of his joy he named him “Laughter.” But more especially true is our proverb of the higher objects of desire. Thus it applies to David’s panting in his soul after God and the ordinances of His house. It describes the hungering and thirsting of souls like Simeon’s and Anna’s and other devout Israelites, waiting for “the Consolation of Israel,” and then seeing His salvation. It emphasizes the gladness of the disciples when they saw their risen Lord. It paints the longing of holy Paul “to depart and be with Christ,” and the bliss “to him that overcometh” when it shall be given him “to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” And it points to a glorious consummation of hope when creation, so long “groaning and travailing in pain,” “shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” “For we are saved by hope” (Rom. 8:21–24).

Application.—Knowing (probably by experience) how weary waiting is for hopes to be fulfilled, let me be careful not to raise them in others unduly, and not to defer their accomplishment or disappoint them unnecessarily. For if hope deferred makes the heart sick, hope frustrated sometimes breaks it. Nor let me build my own hopes too high on earthly things, for they are too unstable to depend upon. But my wisdom will be, having cast in my lot with the people of God, to “both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam. 3:26). Not unmixed with pain is the hope even of good men. For at times God seems to have forgotten, and Jesus makes as though He would depart; and then there can only be sorrow and sickening desire (Ps. 13; Luke 24:28). But when the desire cometh it puts men, as it were, into a kind of paradise. The hope fulfilled, like that mystical “tree of lives,” becomes a source, not only of healing, but of perennial sustenance and joy. Meantime, while my prayer is “Come, Lord, quickly,” my heart’s aspiration shall be, “Make me meet for Thy coming, that I escape the disappointment of the wicked, and share in the bliss of Thy saints!”

April 14th

The law of the wise is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.”—13:14 (10:11; 14:27; 16:22).

Interpretation.—The figure here employed recalls our thoughts to the days in paradise. The tree in the midst of the garden was, to our first parents, as a fountain of life. So long as they observed the law of their wise Creator, they ate of it; and, had they continued obedient, they would have been safe from the snares of Satan, their mortal enemy, and would have lived for ever. So now, God’s law, as revealed in His Holy Book and communicated through the lips of good men, is, to the receptive disciple, both knowledge and strength to know where temptation lies and to escape from its snares.

Illustrations.—The proverb may be applied to death, temporal, spiritual, and eternal. From the first of these, as plotted by his enemies, Nehemiah, through the wisdom given him, delivered both himself and his followers (Neh. 6). “The poor wise man” of whom the Preacher speaks, “delivered the city” (Eccles. 9:14, 15). David escaped again and again from the snares Saul laid for him through behaving himself wisely, the Lord being with him (1 Sam. 18:12, 14, etc.). From death, spiritual and eternal, Jesus stands as the Tree of Life in the midst of the Church, inviting souls to come to Him, that they may be saved. The Apostles and all true ministers of Christ, and each individual Christian according to the grace given him, have helped by their wise counsel to save souls in their generation (Acts 14:22; 18:8; 10:27). And “prudent” men, like Sergius Paulus, who desire to hear wisdom, are saved from the “subtlety and mischief” which the devil employs against others to their ruin (Acts 13:7, etc.).

Application.—David’s Lord has expanded and completed the lesson taught by David’s son. He promises to give that Spirit, which shall be in him who receives it, “a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). And He also has taught us that this fountain is not for oneself only, but to be dispensed for others’ benefit as well, even after His example. Thus I learn that, if a true Christian, I shall have within me that which will preserve me from the snares of death, which will also make me a safe guide to others. Spiritual understanding is a well-spring. Here is no mere surface-work, nor forced, occasional impulse, like that of a summer stream. But deep within, as the springs of Canaan, well supplied from above as by the early and the latter rain—not always bubbling, indeed, but yet always fresh—is the fount of grace within the heart. Mere human wit can never deliver a soul from death. The crafty foe can only be overmatched by “the wisdom that is from above.” This will deliver my soul “out of the snare of the fowler.” By this, if others will be warned, that net shall be “spread” for them “in vain.”

April 15th

He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.”—13:20 (2:20; 14:7).

Interpretation.—The habit of walking together implies friendship. Thus the prophet says, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). And David speaks of walking in company with another as a proof of their close relations (Ps. 55:14). The wise man here asserts that such friendly companionship with good men will tend to make one good, but that the same with godless men will tend to make one godless, and so lead on to ruin.

Illustrations.—Rehoboam’s folly, whereby he lost five-sixths of his kingdom, was traceable to his choice of unwise companions. Joash and Uzziah, so long as they were influenced for good by their intimacy with the high priests Jehoiada and Zechariah respectively, did well. The good Jehoshaphat lost God’s favor for a time by allying himself with Ahab (2 Chron. 19:2). On the other hand, Ruth, by cleaving to Naomi, became a fellow-worshipper of the true God. Elisha, in like manner, received “a double portion” of his master’s spirit. Nathanael had lifelong reason to congratulate himself on his friendship with such a man as Philip.

Application.—Divine wisdom here puts its seal on the conclusions drawn by human wisdom and experience. It has passed into a proverb that to point out his companions is to characterize the man. Hence, I cannot doubt that the choice of associates is a matter of the utmost moment. I am sure, more or less, to catch the spirit, to imbibe the sentiments, to adopt the tone of those whose society I affect. In the way of duty I must, of course, be thrown with all sorts of characters. Among these I am not altogether to avoid the bad, for then I must needs go out of the world (1 Cor. 5:10). But it does not follow that I am to make them my friends. I may reserve my intimacy for those who are “wise,” and aim at cultivating closest relations with “the excellent” ones “of the earth” (Ps. 16:3). It will be to my advantage, in a temporal point of view, to have friendships which of themselves are a recommendation; but how much more as regards the real business of life looked upon as a probation! For “precepts teach, but example draws;” and a good friend who helps one heavenward is among the best of God’s good gifts. Therefore, if I have any questionable companionship, it should be broken off at once. To do so may be hard and painful; but “will not a man give all that he hath for his life?” and more than bodily life is here concerned. Who that knows what death is will not “forsake the foolish and live”?

April 16th

A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.”—13:22 (10:22; 11:25; 20:7).

Interpretation.—These words may be understood literally and metaphorically. Literally, they state what has often, not always, come to pass. Good men who acquire and use their property well, do often leave an inheritance which remains for long in their families, specially if the heirs are well brought up. Whereas, not seldom, though not always, ill-gotten wealth reaches not to the third generation, and even passes out of the family into the hands of good men, whom God thus rewards. Metaphorically, it is true of the inheritance of a good man’s principles and name; and in a mystical sense of certain spiritual privileges which may be (as by baptism) conveyed to others, or may be transferred from one nation or individual to another.

Illustrations.—Abraham, not willing to be rich at any cost, and only anxious to please God and order his household aright, transmitted an inheritance of wealth, and above all of covenant blessings, to his posterity. To Jacob, pious and diligent, God gave of the grasping Laban’s property; and his grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as well as their father, inherited his blessing. David’s lamp burned for seventeen generations; and upon Esther was Haman’s house bestowed (Esth. 8:1). The kingdom of God was taken from the Jews and given to other nations (Matt. 21:43). The Apostolate disgraced by Judas was transferred to Matthias. Children are “holy” by federal union with the Church, through even one Christian parent (1 Cor. 7:14).

Application.—They who “make haste to be rich,” and love their riches, leave God out of their calculations. But sooner or later, in one way or another, He asserts Himself as the “Disposer of all of it” (Job 34:13). History must have taught me this, if my own eyes have not seen it. In how many instances has property acquired by spoliation or dishonesty, wasted in extravagance or vice, hoarded in avarice, or transmitted to ill-reared children, been lost ere long to the family! And, not seldom has that wealth passed into the hands of “the just,” and “the innocent have divided it” (Job 27:17). Thus (unconsciously) does “the sinner gather and heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God” (Eccles. 2:26). But all things are the true Christian’s, and amongst these things “the world” (1 Cor. 3:22). Let me but serve my Master well, seeking first His kingdom, and He will give me what is best. It may be, my thrift and industry shall be blest to the increase of money, and an inheritance to leave behind become mine. If not, I am secured a sufficiency, and may bequeath that good example, name, and education to my children, which shall serve them instead of riches, and make them “loved for the father’s sake.”

April 17th

Much food is in the tillage of the poor: but there is that is destroyed for want of judgment”—13:23 (ver. 25; 10:3; 12:11).

Interpretation.—The first picture here presented to us is of a poor man cultivating a small piece of “fresh land,” which calls for severe labor, as an emigrant who has to make a clearance in the bush. His labor (with God’s blessing) repays him beyond his hopes, and he is able to secure a sufficiency. Contrasted with this is the picture of one who, it may be, has succeeded to an ill-gotten inheritance, or in some other way unrighteously become possessed of money, or who deals with it on unjust principles. Such a one, so far from prospering and being content like his poorer neighbor, comes to want, or even to ruin, and the hand of God is seen in it.

Illustrations.—Jacob is an example of a man who, from a small beginning, by God’s blessing upon his industry, “increased exceedingly” (Gen. 30:43; 32:10). But the treasures inherited and amassed by Rehoboam profited him nothing; yea, were dispersed when he forsook the Lord. Gehazi’s stolen talents (nearly £700),—what comfort or content did they bring him? Upon Jehoiakim a “woe” was pronounced, and an ignominious fate overtook him because he had “built his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong” (Jer. 22:13, 18, 19). St. James tells us that the cries of defrauded laborers “enter into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth,” who will surely avenge their cause. From a spiritual point of view, the parable of the talents illustrates this proverb, as it teaches that faithful improvement of privileges will gain more, while dishonest sloth will lose all.

Application.—“Nothing without labor,”—of this golden truth how often are we reminded by the wise man! But labor, combined with prayer, is that which ensures God’s blessing. Dishonest labor, upon which no prayer can be offered, will never, in the long run, be successful. How often is a poor man seen to thrive, and a rich man to fail! The secret would be discovered in most cases were the inner lives of the men laid bare. How many an estate has been acquired by plodding industry, while the loss of not a few estates might be traced to want of principle! There is such a thing, doubtless, as sowing in righteousness and reaping in mercy (Hos. 10:12). He who out of his poverty gives to God, will be repaid with good interest (Prov. 19:17). He who withholdeth more than is due. will find such economizing tend to penury. Knowing all this, can I question whose lot is most to be envied, or which course best to be pursued?

Be it mine to seek prosperity by both praying and working heartily; to abjure ill-gotten wealth; above all, to improve every opportunity for laying up treasure in heaven!

April 18th

He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”—13:24 (19:18; 22:15; 23:13; 29:15).

Interpretation.—Under the term “rod,” paternal discipline is meant. It includes, but is not confined to, corporal punishment. True love will administer such discipline “in the early morn” of life when it is most likely to be effectual. Its omission implies a love so inactive, an affection so selfish, as to deserve rather to be termed hatred. Its object is to expel folly, to teach obedience, to inculcate good knowledge and principles, to save from future misery and ruin.

Illustrations.—Had Eli hated his sons, he could not have done them a greater injury than he did in allowing them to make themselves vile. Doubtless he had over-indulged them as boys, and they grew up to defy his authority, and to bring scandal upon the Church and ruin upon themselves and their family. In David also the same weakness obtained in the bringing up of at least some of his sons. Probably what is stated with reference to Adonijah, that “his father had not at any time displeased him in saying, Why hast thou done so?” would apply to others of them also. And what was the result? Looking at the characters and ends of Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah, one sees that had their father hated them he could not have done worse by them than he did in neglecting to chasten them betimes.

Application.—To parents, or those who act in their place, the lesson here inculcated belongs. God Himself sets the example by chastening us, His sons, as a proof of His love. The son whom He gives up chastening He has renounced. Not Solomon, but God by his mouth, again and again enforces the duty of parental discipline. Systems of education, therefore, which exclude punishment or reduce it to a mere nothing, oppose human wisdom to the divine. The appeal is here made to the father’s love, that love which is often pleaded as a ground for sparing the rod. The naughty child is to be chastised because it is loved. “The indulgence of children has its root in self-indulgence.” “It is natural to love them much. But grace is required to love them wisely,” and self-denial to punish them wisely. For “every blow dealt is not parental chastisement.” The rod without love is tyranny. The rod without prayer may do more harm than good. It is no easy matter to punish aright. The fault punished should be one that deserves it. The punishment should be proportioned to the fault. It should never be inflicted in a passion, should be accompanied with demonstrations of loving interest, should be a father’s “strange work.” Above all, it should be “betimes,” ere evil habits have grown strong, for late experiments in discipline seldom succeed.

April 19th

Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.”—14:1 (9:1; 31:10–21).

Interpretation.—“Woman’s wisdom” is here contrasted with woman’s folly, and of course the wife and mother is intended. The “house” is the family and household, to “build” which is so to regulate and manage it as to advance its interests. The good, discreet, religious housewife does this by her prudence and industry, by her teaching and her example. A housewife of opposite character, on the contrary, pulls down (as it were) her house with her own hands; does as much injury to her belongings as their worst enemy could desire, and more than her husband can repair.

Illustrations.—Sarah was a model wife and mistress, and under trying circumstances did what was best for her family, according to her light. Rebekah, by her unwise partiality for Jacob, created a sad division in her house. Jezebel, by inciting her husband to evil, brought about the undoing of his house; and she left a daughter trained in her own ways, to perpetuate mischief. But who can estimate the worth of a good wife and mother, a Hannah, a Eunice, and her influence upon succeeding generations? The “Church” or any branch of it, “at unity in itself,” is “edified.” But “a house divided against itself shall not stand.”

Application.—In its fulness, God’s Word touches all classes, and all concerns. What more important than the choice of a wife? Yet how few young men will bear advising on that subject from a fellow-creature! God here counsels them Himself. His own mouth describes the heart-breaking consequences that may ensue upon a misguided, self-willed choice. “There needs no more than a bad wife to undo a family.” “Ill housewifery, as well as ill husbandry, will bring a house to ruin.” Let the pretty bride (married only for her looks) or the rich bride (married only for her fortune) prove willful, wasteful, quarrelsome, ungodly, and the husband will soon find out that he alone cannot keep the house together. If there are children matters only become worse, and the want of home privileges “turns the house out of doors.” It is surely wise, then, to seek for beauty in the character, and “a fortune in a wife rather than with one.” Two things are essential to any prosperous marriage; first, that the coming together, and next that the living together, be in the fear of God. Parents should be consulted; but they ought not to be capricious or tyrannical. To estimate the importance of the step, weigh well its consequences. By a wise marriage (in the true sense of the term) a man may greatly advance his own good and happiness, and extend its benefits to others. But misery dogs his steps who marries ill (12:4).

April 20th

In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride: but the lips of the wise shall preserve them.”—14:3 (10:13; 11:6; 12:6).

Interpretation.—The “rod” here spoken of is for striking with. It grows out of a “root of bitterness” in the heart of the foolish one. “The boastful and overbearing braggart” brandishes it for a while, after which it recoils upon himself. Who does not see that the tongue, undisciplined, unhallowed, used as an injurious exponent of haughty and contumelious thoughts, is thus described? But the wise man, able to close his lips prudently, presents a shield against such attacks. At another time, by not less prudent replies, he beats back the rod with a sharp rebound upon the aggressor.

Illustrations.—How well David met the offensive, irritating words of his eldest brother, by turning away from him almost without a word (1 Sam. 17:28, 29)! Benhadad’s grandiloquent, scornful message to Ahab,—how wisely was it replied to, and how keen the humiliation which followed (1 Kings 20:10, 31)! How terribly did the Ephraimites’ “rod of pride” become a rod for their own back (Judg. 12)! What “a mouth and wisdom” were given to St. Paul when he stood before caviling and contemptuous enemies (Acts 23, 26)!

Application.—Pride is one of the attributes of folly. It was the first emanation from the evil one that came into man’s heart. It soon betrayed itself in the lips of Cain, and, later on, of the Babel-builders as towards God. It has been the root of animosities between man and man from the beginning. It is in my heart, latent or active, until expelled by grace. Have I not often smitten another with an unkind, overbearing, unjust speech? That was the “rod of pride.” Do I not too often make a boast of something by which I detract from or reflect upon another? That is the “rod of pride.” Have I not smarted under it myself in the company of haughty, scornful, satirical persons? Have I not both myself experienced and observed in the case of others the painful retaliation to which such misuse of the tongue exposes one? And do I not admire, as worthy of imitation, those comparatively few individuals who have learned from above when to keep silence and when and how to reply in “the meekness of wisdom”? Shall I not, then, eschew the folly of those who “make their own tongues to fall upon themselves” (Ps. 64:8)? Shall I not, by daily self-examination and prayer, cut off those blossoms and those buds which the rod of pride puts forth (Ezek. 7:10)? Shall I be satisfied with less than that new heart, and that “fruit of the lips,” which God creates?

April 21st

Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.”—14:4 (12:11).

Interpretation.—Through indolence or parsimony, should the husband man dispense with oxen (in the East the animal most useful in agriculture) or reduce his teams too much, he would do an unwise thing. True, his labor and his outgoings would be the less. But so also would be the increase or produce of his farm, from which he derives his income. Hence, such economy of labor and of expenditure would be ruinous. The crib would be clean or empty, giving no trouble. But so also would be the purse and larder, yielding no sustenance. The principle may be widely applied, and thus summed up: Whatever is worth having is worth trouble and cost.

Illustrations.—Adam’s sentence was, “In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread;” and an inspired pen has rewritten that sentence for the Christian Church, commanding “that if any would not work neither should he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). In both is implied the promise that work shall produce food. Even the manna-gatherers were obliged to go out early in search of it, or they lost the substance of their day’s meal, which, when gathered, had afterwards to be prepared (Exod. 16:21; Num. 11:8). So only the Christian who strives, and the minister who follows the plough without looking back, shall succeed in that to which they have put their hand.

Application.—The proverb teaches that only by pains and self-denial is life to be preserved. The man who shirks his work or stints a reasonable outlay upon his business, will be a failure. I have my choice. I may save myself present labor and expense, and the end will be immensely augmented trouble and loss. Or I may put forth all my powers and incur needful expenditure, with the reasonable prospect of “great increase” in time. In all undertakings there is a certain amount of risk. But “in all labor there is profit.” Whereas, neither God nor man can save him from failure who will not help himself. For God works by means, not by miracles. And the sluggard has no encouragement from Him to expect good things to fall into his mouth. Exceptions there may be to this, in the case of the comparatively few who are born to wealth; but they, too, will make no “increase,” but rather lose what they have, if they neglect or mismanage their affairs. In the spiritual life, without exception, all who would prosper must use the ordained means, and, though saved by grace, work out their own salvation. So, too, must Christ’s ministers wait on their husbandry of souls (1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Tim. 2:6). And a false economy it is which would reduce their number or stint them for whom God Himself, in caring for the oxen, has made provision (1 Cor. 9:9).

April 22nd

A scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not: but knowledge is easy to him that understandeth.”—14:6.

Interpretation.—The “scorner” here is one who, in his self-sufficiency, despises authority and instruction, and attempts to gauge truth by the line of his own intellect. From such a one Divine Wisdom hides herself, or presents only an obscure front like an undeveloped photograph. But “to him that understandeth” (and “to depart from evil that is understanding”), who approaches truth with the right moral and spiritual dispositions,—to him it is made easy, for him the Spirit of truth guides into all truth.

Illustrations.—When Jesus was upon earth the Pharisees (those typical scorners) often put questions to Him, but were none the wiser. They said, “We see,” and so remained in their blindness and sin (John 9:41). Herod would witness a miracle, but, being a scorner, was denied one. Pilate asked “What is truth?” but with no earnest desire for an answer, therefore none was given him. To the disciples, because inquirers and teachable, “it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” but to others, not like-minded with them, it was not given (Matt. 13:11). Nathanael and the Ethiopian, in their ingenuousness and childlike simplicity of heart, were made “wise unto salvation.”

Application.—Extremes are always to be avoided, for the truth lies between them. I need not choose, then, betwixt rationalism and superstition, but must guard carefully against either. The latter would make truth to reside in the letter of Holy Scripture or else in the dogmatic teaching of the schools. The former appeals to a verifying test in the human intellect and conscience. In both there is an absence of that true humility which, counting our own wisdom as folly, looks up to God for guidance in all things. He, by His Word and through His Church, has indeed revealed all that is necessary to salvation. But it is one thing to have the truth, another to apprehend it. As a Churchman, I have it not only in my Bible, but explained and formulated in the Prayer-book. And yet I may remain “blind” as the Pharisee of old if I receive it as a mere tradition, and am not “taught of God.” Still worse, I may “perish” with the “despisers” if I lean to my own understanding, and trust to my own “culture,” and deem myself sufficient in myself for the mastery of divine philosophy. From self-sufficiency it is but a single step to scorning. Many who have approached revelation only from an intellectual point of view, have lost themselves in the mists of unbelief. But the grandest as well as the humblest intellects have been alike guided into truth when seeking it with prayer and self-consecration to God.

April 23rd

The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy.”—14:10.

Interpretation.—Man, in the central chamber of his thoughts and feelings, has sorrows which are fully known to God and himself only. And there also are joys too deep, too pure, to be shared by any fellow-creature, or interfered with even by an enemy. The proverb teaches the individuality of each man‘s nature; hence a certain solitariness which attaches to him in life as well as in death; and hence the need of looking above this world for sympathy, and the duty of neither censuring nor intruding upon the griefs and joys of others.

Illustrations.—Neither Hannah‘s husband, kind and affectionate as he was, nor yet the high priest, could enter into her grief, which she took to God. Michal was quite incapable of comprehending David‘s joy; and Joab of sympathy with his parental anguish. Elisha gently made allowance for the bitterness of the Shunammite‘s feelings, which Gehazi would have disregarded (2 Kings 4:27). Job‘s friends, intruding into his great sorrow, proved “physicians of no value” (Job 13:4). Herod, amid the splendor of royalty, was haunted by a guilty conscience (Mark 6:16). Jesus, even when surrounded by His disciples, was alone, and when He sought their sympathy, found it not (Matt. 26:36–43).

Application.—It is well to remember that, as “I shall die alone,” so to a great extent I must live alone. This reflection will save me from much unhappiness, which they experience who are always craving sympathy and suffer from the want of it. Into the deepest joys and sorrows no human friend, not even a wife, can penetrate. I must, so far as they are concerned, bear my own burden. And hence, I must in a measure submit to be misunderstood. This, true of temporal joys and sorrows, is still more true of spiritual. Utterly unintelligible these are except to the spiritually minded (1 Cor. 2:11), and too complex and delicate to be revealed or comprehended even by them fully. The burden of guilt, the conflict with doubt and temptation, the bliss of deliverance from all these,—what brother, however dear, can share with me that bitterness or that joy? Hence the need of fellowship with God, to make me happy. Hence the unimaginable comfort and support of walking with Jesus, “the Friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (18:24), who became “a Man of sorrows,” in order that He might “have a fellow-feeling with our infirmities” (Heb. 4:15), and that we might enter into His joy (S. Matt. 25:21). Having Him, I need not live nor yet die alone. For as He will have led me in life, so will He be with me to comfort me in death, when all human aid and sympathy is vain (Ps. 23). Be this, then, the sympathy I count upon for myself, while I endeavor (though not obtrusively) to rejoice and weep with others.

April 24th

There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”—14:12 (7:27; 12:15; 16:2, 25; 21:2).

Interpretation.—A way of life, a course of action, is meant. Through deception or self-deception, it is made to appear right, at least justifiable to a man. But it is not right, and so, through various bye-paths and turnings, it leads to death. The end is certain, though the beginning was deceptive, and whether it be a course of error in faith or in morals, death spiritual and eternal must be its end if persisted in, and sometimes temporal ruin goes before.

Illustrations.—Eve was persuaded that she was doing a good and a wise thing when she was really bringing death into the world. Jeroboam convinced himself that it was policy to do that which, as it turned out, disestablished instead of establishing his throne, besides affixing an eternal stigma to his name. Even the good Josiah lost his life (though not, we may be sure, his soul) by persistence in a foolish design which seemed good in his own eyes, though God discouraged it (2 Chron. 35:20–24). The persecutors of old time (as now) think they do God service, though their spirit and their actions prove that they know not God (John 16:2). Many professors of religion (like those of the Laodicean Church) will not (it must be feared) have their eyes opened till the day of judgment, to see how they have mistaken the way of death for that of life (Matt. 7:22, 23).

Application.—Conscience has shared in the derangement of man‘s moral nature caused by sin. Hence it is not now of itself a safe guide for man, but requires to be informed and regulated by God‘s Holy Spirit and Word. So that, though I may say, with one of old, “I verily thought in myself” this or that, it by no means follows that the thoughts which seemed to be right may not be altogether wrong, and lead to the worst consequences. If it be wrong it must end in evil, for the result will not accord with the false opinion, but with the absolute truth. This is the case in matters apart from revelation. Implicit confidence, e.g., in a commercial bubble or in an unsound vessel will not save me from being involved in the disastrous effects of the failure or the wreck. And not less, but even more certainly, though I may have persuaded myself or been persuaded that that is good or harmless in faith or morals which by inevitable laws must lead into the ways of death—my peril is not thereby diminished. The infatuation of vice, of formalism, of self-righteousness, of heresy, may blind my eyes to the end; but certainly that end, though I approach it in various ways, and may stop short of it, must needs be death, seeing that all those ways lead from God. False guides will mislead. But there is a way that is right, and the meek shall be taught that way (Ps. 25:9).

April 25th (F. St. Mark)

If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.”—24:10.

Interpretation.—There is a play upon two of the words in the original, which may be thus brought out: “If thou faint in the day of straitness, thy strength (or courage) is strait.” We are told that adversity is the test of strength, of the vigor of religious principles. A man’s religion is proved of what depth it is by his conduct under sore trial, and he himself may then find out, as well as others, what manner of man he is.

Illustrations.—It was cruelly thrown in Job’s teeth that, having strengthened others, he fainted himself when adversity came upon him and touched him (Job 4:3, 5). The reproach shows what men of the world expect of religious men. But good men are not all equally strong, nor strong at all times. It may be that, like Jacob, they imagine things worse than they are, and the future dark when it is bright (Gen. 32). Or it may be that, like St. Peter, they have relied on their own strength to the neglect of prayer. John Mark was an instance of a young Christian allowed to find out his weakness (for he played the coward) when his principles were put to the test, in order that he might afterwards return to the battle-field of missionary enterprise, and prove himself “a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:38; 2 Tim. 4:11).

Application.—“Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” Every blow I receive at the hand of God or man should strike out prayers and aspirations heavenward. Then my strength would “be renewed like the eagles’,” and the heaviest troubles would find me doubly strong. Even heathen poets have taught that one should not give way to misfortunes, but be the more bold in the face of them; that true courage waxes stronger in adversity, and opposes a firm breast to it. How much rather may the Christian teacher be listened to, when he says, not from himself, “Be of good courage, and (God) shall strengthen thine heart” (Ps. 27:14); “He giveth power to the faint” (Isa. 40:29); His “strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9)! Let me, then, prove myself by my power of exercising patience and fortitude in the ordinary trials of life. By sustaining these well, I shall gather strength against a day of real trial. “He is not strong who is not firm in need.” The need may come when least expected. Let me be sure of this—that whereas boasted strength is weakness, acknowledged weakness is strength (2 Cor. 12:10).

May God give me that humility which is the secret of strength, and never suffer me to let go my hope in Him!

April 26th

Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness.”—14:13.

Interpretation.—Doubtless there are thoughtful and deeply religious people, with whom an ever-present sense of this world’s unrest and unsatisfactoriness mars all mirth and merriment. Others, again, there are who are constrained by circumstances to affect cheerfulness and even levity, while the heart within is aching; and a heavy task they find it. But this proverb seems to imply something more. The “laughter” spoken of is that habitual levity of fools which Solomon has elsewhere pronounced “mad,” which Jesus has condemned (Luke 6:25), by which they strive, though vainly, to pass off anxiety and silence conscience.

Illustrations.—“The Man of sorrows” weeping in the midst of joyous exultation, that exultation so soon to be followed by cries for His Blood, points to the close connection between opposite states of feeling in this changeful world. The captive Jews in Babylon, how bitterly they felt the incongruity of songs with heaviness of heart! How soon did Nabal’s merriment die within when the wine went out of him (1 Sam. 25:37)! How short-lived was the disloyal and profane merriment of Adonijah and Belshazzar respectively, to be succeeded by what terrors when the guests withdrew (1 Kings 1:49), and the writing remained upon the wall (Dan. 5:6)! How thinly disguised by a cheerful countenance and manner were the workings of Saul’s conscience when he went forth to meet Samuel (1 Sam. 15:13)!

Application.—Some countenances tell a true tale, but of others the expression is often forced and deceptive. I must not take for granted that there is happiness where there is mirth, for this may be evanescent or assumed. Indeed, profuse merriment is not seldom a cloak to hide some sad secret, and leaves behind it the more sadness. True “joy” is one of “the fruits of the Spirit,” and a cheerful countenance becomes a Christian, but oftentimes in his case the joy is somewhat hidden, being deep. Superficial observers may draw wrong conclusions from these facts in favor of a jovial or careless life over a serious. But he who looks below the surface will not hesitate as to which of the two is the happier. Often, even in this life, the mask is dropped, and the flippant, jocund, boisterous merrymaker avows himself the most miserable of men. Sometimes an act of self-destruction follows close upon intemperate revels. In time of trouble or dangerous sickness, who shows the calmest front? In the day of judgment, where will the unhallowed trifler appear, and where the “blessed” one who mourned?

O Thou who camest to make man’s joy “full,” give me to drink of Thy well, that I thirst not!

April 27th

The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways: and a good man shall be satisfied from himself.”—14:14 (1:31; 18:2; 28:19).

Interpretation.—The good man here represents one who is exactly what the backslider is not. Both are “filled” or “satisfied” from themselves. The backslider “has his reward” (such as it is), and a “woe” is in it (Isa. 3:11). As the dissolute man shall have “poverty enough,” as “the time past may suffice to have wrought” wickedness, so, ironically, he who sacrificed good for evil, whether from fear or from lust, shall have abundant recompense in his own heart. In other words, he shall be a fountain of misery to himself. But the “good man,” who has not forsaken the path of duty, but whose heart is right with God, “it shall be well with him, for (he) shall eat the fruit of (his) doings” (Isa. 3:10). He shall “have rejoicing in himself alone” (Gal. 6:4), his conscience shall be a conduit at which to drink peace (1 John 3:21); “joy unspeakable and full of glory” shall be his.

Illustrations.—Lot was a backslider, and he enjoyed for a while the worldly advantages of Sodom; but in the end what misery overtook him! Ahithophel and Judas, both at one time professors of religion, in departing from “the good and the right way” had each the gratification of his desires; Ahithophel avenged the seduction of his granddaughter (comp. 2 Sam. 23:34, 39, and 11:3), Judas became entitled to a coveted piece of ground. But the end of both, what was it? Contrast with their experiences the peace and joy of a St. Paul, ripening into assurance as he neared the eternal home, after a steadfast course in which he had constantly pressed forward and “kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7, 8).

Application.—If I have given my heart to God and begun to run well, let me beware of the first symptoms of backsliding. Great heights or depths are reached in the spiritual life (as in engineering) by almost imperceptible inclines. Secret indulgence of forbidden desires, repeated neglects of duty,—these prepare the way for a rapid declension or a great fall. There is no such thing as the sudden collapse of a sound heart. When a collapse takes place, and the world is wondering, be sure that heart has been secretly eaten into by hidden sins long before its true state became known, like well-looking fruit preyed upon on the side next the wall. But the consequences of backsliding, what are they? Surely enough to deter one from taking the first step. An eternal surfeit upon sins long since become nauseous—saturation with disappointment—perpetual going back unto perdition. All this, together with the eternal loss of that perfect satisfaction of all his hopes and desires which awaits the good man.

April 28th

The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.”—14:15 (ver. 8; 4:26; 6:1).

Interpretation.—Though sometimes used in a good sense (Ps. 116:6), the word rendered “simple” generally means, as here, one who allows himself to be easily persuaded and misled. Contrasted with him is “the prudent man,” who “takes heed to his (every) step,” “considers and proves his way” (ver. 8).

Illustrations.—By culpable simplicity the world was ruined. Joshua was taken in by the Gibeonites, through not asking counsel at the mouth of the Lord (Josh. 9:14). Potiphar was imposed upon by hearing only one side. The younger prophet followed his inclination in lending a ready ear to his senior. Ahasuerus (as is often the case with men in power) was too willing to give credence to a favorite counsellor. But David showed prudence when he distrusted Saul (1 Sam. 24:22), even as He of whom David was a type did not commit Himself to the Pharisees (John. 2:24). Nehemiah was eminently wary and cautious, making sure every step, or his enterprise must have failed. Sergius Paulus is well styled “a prudent man,” who looked into the momentous question before him for himself, and was not to be beguiled by the sophistries of an Elymas.

Application.—Why is it that we must not believe every word? The world would be far pleasanter to live in if we might. How happy in its trustfulness is a little child until deceived! Suspicion is generated by falsehood; and alas! in this world, where lying is so prevalent, and man preys upon man, we must be to some extent suspicious if we would not be victimized. In temporal matters, then, it behooves me to be always on my guard. Not to trust every one; not to take advice without well weighing it; not to listen to flattery; not to confound credulity with candor or charity. I must try before I trust, and “prove all things” before committing myself to an opinion about them. “The prudent man” is like an intelligent traveler on an unknown road, who applies his mind to its bearings, consults his map, asks guidance of others but does not follow it without consideration, keeps steadily in view the end at which he aims. So let me act in regard to all matters of this life. But most of all in regard to things eternal. Oh, what need to “make sure steps” (Heb. 12:13) on “the way everlasting”! Not to be wavering and “carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14); not to believe every spirit (1 John 4:1), for that is fatuity; not to count “all men liars” (Ps. 116:11), for that is undue suspiciousness; but to believe every word of God, which is faith, and to “hear the Church,” which is duty.

April 29th

Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge.”—14:7 (9:6, 8; 26:4).

Interpretation.—If for “from the presence of” we read (as is preferable) “over against”—the full force of the injunction is seen. We are to get right away from a “foolish” or unprincipled man. For there can be no advantage, and there may be great hurt, from remaining voluntarily in the company of one out of whose lips no profitable words are to be expected. Besides, withdrawal is often, if not the only, the best, manifestation of disapproval in our power.

Illustrations.—Moses, after much long-suffering, retorted upon Pharaoh his threat, “I will see thy face no more” (Exod. 10:29). Our blessed Lord not unfrequently left those who caviled at His words and deeds, and refused to answer Herod or to plead before Caiaphas. St. Paul, following His example and advice (Matt. 10:14), turned his back upon those Jews at Antioch and Corinth and Rome, who fanatically opposed the truth, and turned to the Gentiles. Speaking of the scoffers who were to appear “in the last days,” the Apostle says to Church-people, “From such turn away” (2 Tim. 3:5).

Application.—What among Christians should be the aim and object of conversation? Surely, instruction and refreshment of spirit. To impart and receive useful information, exchange ideas, sharpen intellects, promote mutual sympathy, and above all, build up one another in high and holy principles. But if so, then, from association with an ungodly and unprincipled, not less than with an ignorant or stupid person, there is nothing “good for the use of edifying” to be got. Nay, positive harm may as easily be derived from “foolish talking” as from “evil communications” (1 Cor. 15:33). The wise man and the Apostle alike exhort that we shun unprofitable company as much as possible, never voluntarily enter into it, and withdraw from it as soon as our eyes are opened to its character. To say the least, it is waste of time to converse without profit. But when the staple of conversation is idle or malicious gossip, scornful criticism of others, petty news mongering, idle jesting, or worse, and all without regard to God’s Word as the rule and guide of life,—then still more does it become the Christian to withdraw. Only one consideration can make it right for him to stay a while. It may be his duty to protest against or to try to turn the current of such discourse. If so, let him discharge that duty with haste and “with fear.” Great caution, however, is needed not to mistake rashness for courage. As a rule, “retreat, the safety of the weak,” will be my duty.

April 30th

The house of the wicked shall be overthrown: but the tabernacle of the upright shall flourish.”—14:11 (3:33; 10:25; 12:7).

Interpretation.—There is a double contrast here drawn. The “wicked” man imagines himself to have built a sure “house;” it shall be overthrown. The “upright” man regards himself as a pilgrim dwelling in a tent; it shall endure when the other is not. We may regard the “house” and the “tabernacle” as signifying either the state of life or the family. In either view the instability of that which was deemed stable is set against the stability of that which was not counted upon as lasting.

Illustrations.—The case of Saul and David might well be in Solomon’s mind. What a contrast did the two afford in their histories! The son of Kish, by wrong-doing, forfeited a throne and a dynasty which he might well have deemed secure. The son of Jesse, because he pleased God, had his “house and kingdom established (typically) forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). Ahab’s house, multiplied beyond all human average, was at one stroke swept away, as he himself had been (1 Kings 21:20–22; 2 Kings 10:1–11). Job, on the contrary, upon whose “tabernacle was the secret of God” (Job 29:4), survived his “fiery trial,” and saw his fourth generation. The Rechabites, who dwelt in tents, had the promise of a sure house (Jer. 35:19). The saints who have lived in faith, confessing themselves “strangers and pilgrims on the earth,” have “a city which hath foundations, prepared for them by God” (Heb. 11:10, 16).

Application.—No truth more clearly shines forth in the Bible than this, that the God-fearing shall be satisfied, the godless disappointed in the end. To the end I must look by faith, for it is not to be seen, except partially, in this life. To sense, indeed, how often it appears as though prosperity were the portion of the wicked, misfortune of the righteous! The light of the sanctuary reveals that this is for a little while only; as the drama unfolds their positions are seen to be reversed (Ps. 73). Even upon earth, however, there is much to recommend the choice of the godly man. In his feeblest and most down-trodden estate there are the elements of true stability. For what can take from him the sweet assurance of God’s favor? On this assurance he builds “a house not made with hands.” He has confidence in the character of those who shall come after him, knowing that though grace does not run in the blood, it does in the promise and in the current of faithful parental tuition. For himself, though he should die homeless, he believes there is prepared a mansion above. Whereas, the wicked, however strong his dwelling-place and built up his family, has the certain prospect of overthrow in the next world, if not in this.[1]

 

 

[1] Pearson, C. R. (1880). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 1, pp. 92–121). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)

May

May 1st (SS. Philip and James)

As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.”—27:19.

Interpretation.—“As water reflects face to face, so the heart (reflects) man to man.” This more correct rendering makes the heart of others to be the instrument of reflection. And by the heart is to be understood in a general way the character, mental and moral. You may see yourself while looking upon others, especially those over whom you have influence. But it is equally true that you may know other men by getting a thorough knowledge of yourself. The oneness of human nature is here taught.

Illustrations.—How often may parents see their own faults or virtues reflected in their children, as Jacob his deceitfulness, David his voluptuousness, Hannah her prayerful piety. Or a master in his servants (29:12), for if he “hearken to lies they all are wicked,” if he be like Cornelius, “a devout man,” one or more of them will probably reflect his devoutness (Acts 10:7, 33, 48). Often has it been found that “like people like priest,” and the converse of this also is often true (Hos. 4:9). Do not David’s Psalms strike the same key-notes in our hearts now as vibrated in his heart when he sang them of yore? And were not the Apostles, however diverse in natural character as in their several experiences, one in heart and linked together (as SS. Philip and James), in that they loved the same blessed Master and devoted themselves alike to His service?

Application.—The text is not a mere sentiment, but teaches me many lessons. I ought to learn from it the immense responsibility of influence, in that I must make others more or less like myself. I am taught, by way of acquiring self-knowledge, to study human nature, since what I shall find in others exists more or less, latent if not developed, in my own heart. Should I not be more able to do to others as I would they should do to me—if convinced that their expectations of what is due only correspond with my own? Would not my sympathies be more readily drawn out towards my fellow-men, did I recognize a kindred soul in each one? To see myself as I am, would it not compel humility? To see others as I am, would it not beget brotherly love? Moreover, how can I complain of strangeness-in my experiences if I realize that, from Adam to David, from David to St. Paul, from St. Paul to the present day, human nature and human experiences have been the same? “He who understands his own heart will have the key to all others.” There is a correspondence between man and man which is common to all. But as the “image of the earthy” is borne by every corrupt heart, so is the “image of the heavenly” by every heart renewed by grace. And thus true Christians are linked together in one mystical brotherhood, “the communion of saints.”

May 2nd

He that despiseth his neighbor sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.”—14:21 (vv. 20, 31; 11:12; 19:4, 7; 29:7).

Interpretation.—This verse should be taken in connection with the preceding one. Therein “the way of the world” is depicted, satirically but not untruly. Here, to despise a neighbor because he is poor (perhaps has fallen into poverty), is condemned as a sin against God. In contrast with this the virtue of showing kindness and compassion to the poor and suffering is recommended as one that will ensure a blessing. “Blessings on him!” (lit.) who thus acts—the blessing of God and “of him that was ready to perish” (Job 29:13).

Illustrations.—Of King Josiah it was said by one inspired, “He judged the cause of the poor and needy” (Jer. 22:16). Hence, he was widely lamented, and his “goodness” or “kindnesses” commemorated (2 Chron. 35:24–27). St. Paul was “forward” both to distribute relief and to promote almsgiving in the Church (Gal. 2:10; Rom. 15:25; 2 Cor. 8, 9, etc.). But the Jews of Jeremiah’s time were threatened for their contemptuous neglect of the poor, in which they followed the example of their king, Jehoiakim (Jer. 5:28; 22:17). Our Lord has condemned, in two of His parables, the sin of supercilious neglect of a neighbor needing help (Luke 16:19; etc., 10:30; etc.), and has made it a personal offence against Himself, to be recompensed in the great day (Matt. 25:31, etc.).

Application.—Unduly to value wealth and station in the world leads to a dislike and contempt of the poor. To be free from that I must avoid this. And, surely, my religion, as a Christian, not only obliges me not to love the world, but sets before me Him who became poor as most worthy to be loved, for His own sake, and His poor as commended to me by Him. “The rich hath many friends,” “swallow-friends” and parasites, too many of them. These will forsake their friend at once in the wintry day of adversity, when no more profit is to be made of him. But could I act so base a part, having learnt to “honor” a man for what he is, not for what he has, and “all men” as made in the image of God, and redeemed by the Savior’s Blood? Nay, truly, if my friend has sunk down into poverty, I will show him the more friendship, and, far from despising, minister to his necessities with all delicacy and love. Only by his own fault shall my efforts to do him good be in vain; and doubtless there are those who make it impossible to help them. But the poor, as such, have a claim upon my benevolence. And it shall be reward enough to receive their blessings, and to know that God will bless me and be my friend. For it is Godlike to dispense benefits, in a “spirit of love,” on the evil and on the good.

May 3rd

A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil: but the fool rageth and is confident.”—14:16 (12:15; 22:3).

Interpretation.—A wise man, through fear of God and of the consequences of a false step, will start back when advised of danger, or return from a perilous course on which he may have entered. The fool, on the other hand, will betray his folly by boldly rushing on in headlong self-sufficiency, and even upbraiding those who would keep him back from ruin.

Illustrations.—Lot showed wisdom at last in escaping from the judgment which his sons-in-law, seeing no signs of it, laughed to scorn. Goliath raged and was confident, while rushing on to his own destruction. Rehoboam acted the part of a madman when, in his arrogance, despising wise counsels, he threatened those he should have conciliated. Naaman began by acting foolishly when he was ready to turn away from Jordan in a rage, but, listening to counsel, proved himself wise in the end. Sennacherib, like a madman, defying the God of Israel, precipitated his own downfall. The obstinate incredulity of Gedaliah, in the teeth of warning, made it impossible to save him from assassination (Jer. 40; 41). How earnestly does St. Peter, taught by sad experience, inculcate in his old age the wisdom of holy fear (1 Pet. 1:17; 5:5, etc.)!

Application.—Self-confidence imposes upon the world. By arrogant impetuosity men have pushed their way to high places. But the proportion of those who thus succeed is probably very small compared with those who fail. And in many instances it would be found, where the success appeared due to presumption, that there was more prudence and caution and management in the background than was acknowledged. At any rate, it may be laid down as a rule that, in temporal matters, he will be most prosperous who is least rash, who weighs matters instead of deciding off-hand, is willing to hear opinions, and to retrace a false step if made. Whereas, he who resents the laws of prudence, and would rather be wrong in his own way than right in another’s, will make many a grave mistake. Still more is this true with regard to the things eternal. A holy dread of displeasing God, and of the consequences of sin,—this is wisdom. And the fruit of this will be a prayerful spirit of dependence upon God for direction, a humble self-mistrust, a modest deference to the wisdom and experience of those who are competent and authorized to teach. In this spirit evil will be escaped and salvation wrought out (Phil. 2:12). While the heady and high-minded, giving the reins to his passions, rejecting counsel, and persisting in his own way, will confess as well as prove himself a fool at last. For “he who lives without fear shall die without hope.”

May 4th

The evil bow before the good; and the wicked at the gates of the righteous.”—14:19.

Interpretation.—That true goodness always at last wins the supremacy is the general proposition here stated. The history of mankind presents many apparent contradictions to it. They are only apparent, however, until the end comes, when they will disappear. But incidents occur often enough to bear out the statement of the text, as a general rule, in this life. Its universal applicability will be seen in that day when all seeming contradictions between God’s Word and man’s experience will be solved in the complete fulfilment of each man’s destiny, and of the divine purposes.

Illustrations.—Joseph’s guilty brethren bowed before their good brother; Pharaoh and his people before Moses, God’s vicegerent, whom they had repulsed. Saul was compelled, by the force of truth, to humble himself before David, owning himself in the wrong (1 Sam. 24; 26). Jehoram and Naaman, the one a schismatic, the other an idolater, had to sue for favor at the gates of Elisha, the prophet of the true God (2 Kings 3 and 5). Daniel and his three friends became entitled to the reverence due to a superior at the hands of those who had sought their ruin. Herod, a bad king, feared John, a dauntless prophet. To their prisoner Paul, his keepers all looked up as the one man on board ship who, by God’s favor, could tell them what to do in the peril of shipwreck (Acts 27).

Application.—That the wicked not seldom succeed for a time in trampling upon the good is beyond a doubt. The fact, however, need not disturb my mind with questions about God’s providence. For it is a part of His moral government of the world that thus it should be, for trial of faith, for discipline to heroism. That it will not be always so is intimated by the reverse picture, even now often to be seen, and by distinct assurances of the triumph of goodness in good men at last. For then the positions of all will be adjusted with simple reference to what they are in God’s sight, and “many who were last will be first, and the first last.” Over the wicked in the morning of the resurrection “the upright shall have dominion” (Ps. 49:14). They “shall tread down the wicked under their feet” (Mal. 4:3). “The saints shall judge the world” (1 Cor. 6:2). “To him that overcometh power over the nations shall be given.” Before the feet of Christ’s true people the enemies of His Church shall come and worship, and know that He has loved them (Rev. 2:26; 3:21).

Let it be enough for me that God will make His truth to triumph; in that faith let me contend for it earnestly!

May 5th

He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.”—14:29 (ver. 17; 12:16; 19:2).

Interpretation.—To be “slow to wrath” implies government of the temper, which is an element of wisdom, one of the attributes of a great man. Anger, which is thus restrained till the fitting time, and then expressed in fitting terms and measure, becomes just and judicial, and without sin, nay, the fulfilment of a duty. Whereas, to be hasty of spirit (literally “short-tempered”) is to make one’s folly conspicuous to the world, and to give it for the time both throne and scepter within the breast.

Illustrations.—Moses furnishes an example of meekness, hastiness, and anger without sin (Eph. 4:26). Under the provocations of his brother and sister he exhibited a meekness which we are told was characteristic (Num. 12:3). But in his action and words at the rock in Kadesh he betrayed a vehemence of temper which misbecame his office, and was therefore severely punished (Num. 20:10, 12). His indignation at the worship of the golden calf was not only justifiable but pious. The rage and fury of a heathen monarch like Nebuchadnezzar, which made conspicuous his folly, can surprise no one (Dan. 3:19–22). But in Jonah, a prophet of the Lord, we look for a better temper than was exhibited. Our blessed Lord is our Exemplar, who never gave way to temper under the greatest provocation. Nevertheless, He displayed anger against sin, calm and judicial, “the wrath of the Lamb.”

Application.—“Man’s thoughts are not God’s.” How common, e.g., is it to excuse a short temper as a mere natural infirmity! Nay, the absence of heat and hastiness is more often than not deemed a mark of a poor, mean, cowardly spirit. It is thought that such a man lays himself open to insult and ill usage. It is even assumed that a man without a temper will never assert himself so as to do much in the world. In works of fiction, irritability and benevolence frequently appear conjoined. But Holy Scripture teaches us the truth in this matter. To be short-tempered is to be ungoverned, and so far not wise, not religious, not of the spirit of Christ. In giving way to anger, words and gestures and deeds proclaim the folly which I am sure, sooner or later, to own to myself. A creature of impulse may be impulsively benevolent as well as angry, but how much better is principle than impulse! Wrath should not be treasured up vindictively, but the expression of it restrained and directed rather against the sin than the sinner. It is better to control temper than to extinguish it, for under right government it may be a weapon of righteousness. And he who has learnt thus to govern it is a truly great man, and will be respected as such.

May 6th

The wicked is driven away in his wickedness: but the righteous hath hope in his death.”—14:32.

Interpretation.—On the nicely balanced arms of this proverb two truths are sustained and held out to view. The death of the wicked is contrasted with that of the righteous. In the case of the former there can be no hope, since he dies, if not in the act of sin (as often happens), at least in a state of sin. And being thus unprepared, to him death is a most unwelcome visitor, to whose power he reluctantly yields. Whereas, the other, the good man, the true Christian, has that within him which overcomes the fear of death—a humble but sure “hope full of immortality.”

Illustrations.—Some transgressors have been as it were chased out of the world, like chaff before the wind of God’s judgments. Such were Dathan and Korah, Hophni and Phinehas, the profane youths of Bethel, Ananias and Sapphira. Others, like Saul and Judas, have been driven, by despair or by conscience, to put an end to their own miserable lives. Some have died confidently, having “no bands (or pangs) in their death” (Ps. 123:4), yet with no assured hope. They did not desire to go, but their souls were required of them, and they departed. How different from Job, who saw in the cloud, dark with the shadow of death, the rainbow of hope painted (Job 19:25–27)! How unlike David, who in his last words rests upon “the Rock of Israel” (2 Sam. 23:3)! What a contrast to St. Stephen, with angel’s eye seeing heaven open; and to St. Paul, ready, yea longing, “to depart and to be with Christ”!

Application.—To the test of death, all who are not found among the “quick” must be brought. And for those “that day” will be an equally decisive test. Would it not be wise to try myself betimes by the examples which have gone before? Am I living that godly life which would warrant my having a good hope were my summons to come to-day? Or should I be found, if overtaken by death now, in the hopeless condition of those who die in their sins? It would be well to meditate often on “death, judgment, and eternity.” Am I indeed prepared, or at least preparing, for each of these inevitable states? Let me try myself by the examples of the saints, and by the rule of life they followed. It is possible to be at ease in the midst of sin and danger, like a ship quietly frozen in by her own element, and unmoved in her solid bed. But what will be the fate of that vessel when the ice suddenly breaks up? And what the fate of an un-awakened soul when judgment is at hand? True, there are degrees of hope, and all good men have not the same measure. Sometimes, moreover (as at sea), the first approach to the shore is through rough waters. Then these subside, and as all was hope, so all is peace.

May 7th

A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones.”—14:30 (4:20–23; 10:27; 27:4).

Interpretation.—The heart is the center of physical life, which will not last long if the heart be diseased. It is also commonly spoken of as the seat of the passions and affections. Hence, “a sound” (or “quiet”) “heart” in Scripture phraseology means the state of a man whose passions are well controlled, and is contrasted here with the state of a man who is under the power of any evil passion, e.g., of envy. Now, it is a physical as well as moral fact that nothing conduces more to health and happiness than a quiet, gentle, and contented mind; a kind, sympathetic spirit; a hearty, friendly, cheerful disposition. On the other hand, envy and such-like fretful passions which prey upon the spirits, affect injuriously the bodily as well as spiritual health.

Illustrations.—What an unhappy victim of envy and other evil passions was Saul when the Spirit of the Lord had departed from him! Why did Ahab take to his bed and refuse food but because covetousness had possession of his heart? With what a pining sickness, by reason of jealous hatred towards Mordecai and his people, was the wretched Haman consumed, in spite of all his prosperity! But Moses had a sound, well-governed heart, into which envy could not enter, and vitality beyond that of other men was his (Num. 11:27–29; Deut. 34:7).

Application.—The Bible sets before us life and death. We are apt to think of these as of reward and punishment only in the life to come. But this is a mistake. In this text, e.g., and in many others, present health of body is made, in some measure, to depend upon and correspond with the moral and spiritual condition of the man. I cannot doubt that fretting or turbulent passions do really tend to shorten bodily life. “Wrath killeth the foolish man” (Job 5:2). “Envy is the rottenness of the bones”—an executioner, this vice, to itself. Hence, self-interest alone would plead for self-government. Philosophy has taught and, to a certain extent, practiced this wisdom, laying the axe at the root of passion. But only the religion of Christ can teach, and only His Spirit impart, that “charity” which is soundness of heart. In proportion as I learn to love I become happy, and happiness is a secret of health and long life. Whereas, any indulged passion (and what is worse than envy?) acts as a deep-seated disease, which burns and destroys inwardly. If not conquered now, it will gnaw like “the worm that dieth not.”

Therefore, O Fount of charity, let me drink in love from Thee, and, with love, health and length of days!

May 8th

In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence; and His children shall have a place of refuge.”—14:26 (18:10).

Interpretation.—“The fear of the Lord” is filial fear, and hence the promise is to “His children,” who possess it. A “strong confidence,” a sure reliance on the paternal protection of the Almighty One, is its fruit. Nor does this disappoint; for in the time of trial, of vehement attack, yea, at the last extremity, the Eternal God is their refuge (Deut. 33:27).

Illustrations.—The Psalms are full of allusions to the writer’s confidence in God, based upon experience of His protection in time of trouble. David was wont, in his many reverses, to strengthen and encourage himself in God (1 Sam. 23:16; 30:6), and his strong confidence only began to fail him when he had departed from filial obedience (2 Sam. 15:14). Hezekiah, when he “spread before the Lord” the threatening letter of a mighty foe, betook himself in childlike faith to that “strong tower,” in which he could not but be safe. How touching is the confidence expressed by the prophet Habakkuk, and doubtless the fruit of his experience, in the anticipation of a sore famine! Enough for him that he can say, “The Lord God is my strength” (Hab. 3:17–19). St. Peter, asleep between two soldiers, calmly relying upon the power of prayer, and St. Paul looking forward to the time of his departure with exulting hope, are only additional illustrations of a confidence which has ever been enjoyed, more or less, by all God’s dutiful children, and has never put them to shame.

Application.—The world mistakes the nature of the fear of God; but so will not I. It is not a craven, servile spirit, for that would be without love. No, strange to say, “this fear is not that which love casts out, but that which love brings in.” Nor is it like fear of man, which produces faintness, for this, the fear of the Lord, emboldens. This holy fear is confidence; it delivers from all fear. It is combined with great joy (Matt. 28:8); for joy accompanies salvation, and “His salvation is nigh them that fear Him” (Ps. 85:9). The world also mistakes the nature of the “strong tower” into which the Lord invites His people; but so will not I. To those who are without it looks like a gloomy prison, and they shrink from its bolts and bars as from an enforced and oppressive thraldom. But to those within it is a strong fortress, and they rejoice that it defies the assaults of their worst enemies. Truths such as these are mystical, and only revealed to those who have seen as well as entered the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5). “Lord, shew me the Father.” Be this my prayer. For could the son but know the Father’s love, would he not abide with Him in the house? Would not even the prodigal arise and return, and fall upon His bosom, and so be safe for ever?

May 9th

He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth Him hath mercy on the poor.”—14:31 (ver. 21; 17:5; 22:22).

Interpretation.—To oppress the poor is more than to despise them. It is to take advantage of a superior position to treat them with rigor and severity, to grind their faces with hard and underpaid labor, to make their necessity a reason for harsher instead of more gentle treatment. And this is to reproach their Maker, as though He were accessory to such tyranny in having made them poor, as though He intended them to be trampled upon. But no man who honors God and sees His image in the poorest, and knows of what account they are in His sight, and what His will is concerning them, will fail to have mercy on the poor, especially as one who has received mercy.

Illustrations.—The tender provisions of the Mosaic law show God’s care for the poor (Deut. 15:7–11; 24:10–15), and His expostulations (Isa. 3:13) and threatenings (Acts 10:1, 2) on their account His personal sympathy with them in their oppression. Jesus was emphatically the poor man’s Friend, and Him God delighteth to honor. And He accepts as good offices or as affronts to Himself whatever is done for or against His poor (Matt. 10:42; 25:31, etc.).

Application.—By the poor I am to understand chiefly those who are poor by the appointment of God. Such “shall never cease out of the land.” And there are wise reasons for this. Their existence is a continual call for the exercise of forbearance, kindness, gentleness, and generosity. But more, they are to us Christians constant mementoes of “the Man Christ Jesus,” and furnish us with frequent opportunities of showing personal love to Him. Charity to them is a simple payment, in a measure, of our debt of gratitude to God, though leaving us, indeed, still “unprofitable servants,” to sue for mercy for ourselves. But, though not meritorious, such charity is well pleasing in the sight of Him with whom we have to do. Only let it be real, as the ills of life are very real, and not to be conjured away by mere words. Let it not be confined to either soul or body, but extend to both. We can hardly hope to reach the soul of the sick or starving man except through his body. Hence our Lord’s command to heal as well as preach (Matt. 10:7, 8). And not to do what good we may to the soul also is to reproach the Author of redemption with having done a needless thing in that great work. But if I would do good to any, I must be consistently charitable in all the relations of life; not a great philanthropist, while a bad father or son; not liberal to beggars, and close or unjust to my own work-people. The motive for all which will be the sense of my own indebtedness to grace.

May 10th

Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.”—14:34.

Interpretation.—By “righteousness” is to be understood religious and moral rectitude. By “sin,” departure from God’s law. As these are, in individual cases, followed by prosperity or by disgrace, so equally when individual cases are multiplied into nations. The terms used here in the original imply foreign nations, and the argument is from them to God’s own people, of whom so much more might be expected, from whom so much more will be required, and whose reward or punishment will be proportionately great.

Illustrations.—“The annals of the chosen people, according as they were a righteous or sinful nation, are marked by corresponding exaltation or reproach.” Contrast, e.g., the state of the Israelites under Joshua (Josh. 1:8; 10:42; 23:14) with that of the next generation after his death (Judg. 1, 2, etc.). Contrast that of the Jews under Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 17:2–5; 10, 11) and under Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:7) with the state of the nation under Ahab and Ahaz (1 Kings 17, 22; 2 Kings 16). Observe, too, how ruin was brought upon the Canaanites by their iniquity (Lev. 18); how the Amalekites were destroyed because their hand was against the throne of the Lord (Exod. 17:16); Babylon for its oppression (Isa. 14:4–23; 47:6–15); Tyre for its pride, the result of its great commercial prosperity (Ezek. 28:2–8); Nineveh for its love of ease and pleasure, its licentiousness and proud security (Zeph. 2:13–15).

Application.—If God’s Word is to be believed, a religious policy must be the best for a nation’s welfare. And, surely, it stands to reason that “as there is nothing in religion to counteract the design of a wise system of civil polity, so there is nothing in a wise system of civil government to counteract the design of the Christian religion. The exaltation of the nation is the end of civil polity. Righteousness is the end of religion, or rather is religion itself.” There can be no question in the abstract that “what is morally wrong can never be politically right;” and further, that a nation is respected and prosperous in proportion as its laws are good, its policy wise and generous, its morals pure, and its reliance upon God’s blessing. An opposite state of things must needs draw down a curse and consequent reproach and humiliation. The question for me is, how can I, a humble individual, perform the duty of a true patriot? And it may be answered thus: First, by being a godly man myself. Then, by doing my best that power may be lodged in godly hands. Further, by helping forward religious education, moral agencies, and, in general, the work of Christ’s Church. Lastly, by earnest, regular prayer for the rulers in Church and State.

May 11th

A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”—15:1 (14:29; 16:32; 30:33).

Interpretation.—The word “wrath” here signifies extreme anger—anger at a white heat. Even this may be “turned away” or “put back” by a “soft,” a healing, word. Whereas, “anger,” or irritation, is “stirred up” by grievous words—words which give pain and are intended to give pain. These, like coals upon fire, cause that to blaze up which might otherwise have died out.

Illustrations.—Jacob, anticipating his brother’s reproaches, tried the experiment of a soft answer betimes, and gained his brother. Aaron in like manner turned away the wrath of Moses (Lev. 10:16–20). The Reubenites, by a conciliatory reply, averted a civil war (Josh. 22:15, etc.), as did Gideon later on (Judg. 8:1), unlike Jephthah (Judg. 12). Hannah answered meekly under an offensive imputation, as did St. Peter long afterwards on behalf of himself and others under the same. But our blessed Lord, in this as in all respects is our great Exemplar, “Who when He was reviled reviled not again,” but by His forgiving words on the cross won a blasphemer’s soul.

Application.—I may not assume that a soft answer will always turn away wrath. Under some circumstances it may, even at the time, have proved an additional provocation, though in the end its virtue will be acknowledged. But its tendency is to soothe and heal, and as a rule it will produce this effect. The words are to be understood with limitations. The “soft answer” may be a reply to words spoken, or may be uttered in deprecation of anger known to exist in the breast, perhaps displayed in the countenance of another. It is usually better, when such anger has been aroused, to speak than to maintain a sullen silence, and to speak without much delay. But how to speak, this is the question. Human nature thinks scorn of a soft answer, as though indicative of a poor spirit. Left to myself, I should retaliate with hot and scornful words. Then, as between two flints, how great a fire would be kindled! I might even be tempted, rather than lose the pleasure of making a smart retort, or of having the last word, to lose my friend. I should certainly, by giving the reins to my temper, be in danger of making God my enemy. Therefore let me take heed not to be left to myself. To secure preventing grace in my morning prayer, my early Communion, and by a petition darted upwards at the time. Then I may hope to be able, at the moment of trial, to act with the patience and dignity of a Christian. To be meek, yet wise and firm. To ply hard arguments (if needful), but with soft words. To say no more than is required, and that in love.

May 12th

Hell and destruction are before the Lord: how much more then the hearts of the children of men?”—15:11.

Interpretation.—“Sheol and Abaddon,” the place of departed spirits, and the lowest hell the abode of “the angels that sinned” (2 Pet. 2:4), “are before the Lord,” under His eye and control. He knows and regulates the condition of every departed spirit. The secrets of the prison-house of despair are all open to Him. The deepest machinations of the Prince of hell (called Abaddon, Rev. 9:11) and of all the demons are penetrated by His omniscience. How much more, then, may we believe (the argument is adapted to our limited powers of reason) that the hearts of living men, into which we ourselves have some penetration, must be subject to His cognizance and power! How can man, so inferior in subtlety and sagacity, expect to hide counsels or prosper in conspiracies against Him?

Illustrations.—Foreknown to the Omniscient One from the beginning was Pharaoh’s persistent rebellion and ultimate fate, though, with a view to His own glory (Exod. 3:19; Rom. 9:17), He allowed that monarch to maintain his ground through ten successive plagues. His control of the hearts of men and of nations is equal also to His knowledge, and is compared by Himself to that of the potter over the clay (Jer. 18:6). Jesus, when upon earth, proved Himself God by answering men’s thoughts (Luke 7:39, 40; Matt. 9:4), convicting men of secret sin (John 8:7–9), and predicting their future (John 21:18, etc.).

Application.—No one denies God’s omniscience in words, but how much atheism unspoken is acted! Of men who profess to believe the Bible, and who abjure it, too many are alike in this respect. The disciple of nature may imagine himself encompassed by the Deity in His works, but it is not a personal God taking cognizance of his thoughts and doings whom he acknowledges. Like the idolater, he wants a blind God, and this he finds in nature as the other in blocks of wood and stone. But mine be the God revealed in the Word I believe to be His, and from His all-searching eye, as from His all-pervading presence, I know there is no escape—in hell no more than in heaven (Ps. 139). What, however, should be the effect of this belief upon my life? How can I prove it to be real? Surely it will make me afraid even to think before Him what I should be afraid to do before men. It will abide with me in His sanctuary, in my place of business, in my private chamber, and constrain me to aim at holiness. And then it will enable me to appeal to Him, “Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee,” and to found upon the omniscience of my Saviour a hope for eternity.

Search me, O God, and know my heart, not to condemn but to heal!

May 13th

A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.”—15:13 (ver. 15; 12:25; 17:22).

Interpretation.—“Merry” is the old English word for “cheerful.” Though not always, yet as a rule (14:13), the countenance is an index to the heart to some extent. Peace and joy within have that wholesome effect upon the bodily health which brightens up the face. Whereas a running sore at the heart impairs the health and energies and breaks down the spirit.

Illustrations.—Hannah, “a woman of a sorrowful spirit,” which her countenance betrayed, was breaking down under her heart’s grief before the word came which restored her to health and gladness (1 Sam. 1:7, 15, 18). The wife of Phinehas seems to have succumbed to grief (1 Sam. 4:20, etc.). Our blessed Savior would appear to have become prematurely old as “the Man of sorrows” (John 8:57), and to have died of a broken heart (Ps. 22:14; 69:20; Matt. 27:50; John 19:34). But after His resurrection, His countenance inspired joy (John 20:20), and was as the sun (Rev. 1:16). St. Stephen, animated by His Spirit, displayed “a face” radiant with happiness, “as it had been the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

Application.—This proverb is not a mere truism, but practical lessons are wrapped up in it. Who has a cheerful heart but the man who has a good conscience through the “blood of sprinkling” (Heb. 10:22), and who exercises himself to keep that conscience “void of offence toward God and men” (Acts 24:16)? If this be my happy case, it ought to be manifested in a cheerful mien. I ought to be “an epistle” of joy (not like Ezekiel’s scroll), “known and read of all men,” and recommending the religion I profess. Earthly trials will at times depress the spirit (and some men are constitutionally more subject than others to such depression), but they should never “break” his spirit who as a true Christian can reflect on what the Lord has done for him, and look forward to what the Lord is preparing for him. There are those who “weep as though they wept not,” smiling through their tears, and others who “eat in darkness,” and whose hands hang down. This is the state of those (and no wonder) who are a prey to “the sorrow of the world, that worketh death,” to an evil conscience, to envy or discontent. And the only remedy is in absolution and a new heart through the Blood and Spirit of Christ. If I am as yet unpardoned, unrenewed, no solid happiness or safety can be mine, only a fitful merriment interchanged with ever-deepening gloom. But if a Christian indeed, then “the joy of the Lord” should be “my strength.” And this joy will enable me to do good like a medicine to hearts that stoop, and it may be to save some from giving way to despondency or despair.

May 14th

Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith.”—15:16 (ver. 6; 16:16).

Interpretation.—The contrast seems to be not between wealth and poverty, to the advantage of the latter, but between wealth without the fear of the Lord (attended with turmoil), and contracted means accompanied with that peace and blessing which true religion brings. A “little” under those circumstances is certainly better than great “revenues.”

Illustrations.—Perhaps no man ever possessed greater treasures than Solomon himself, yet his experience proved them to be but “vanity and vexation of spirit” after he had forsaken God (Eccles. 2:11). And no man was ever poorer than Job when deprived of all by a mysterious providence, yet how much, in reality, was his condition even then better than that of the apostate king, able as he still was to maintain his faith in God! Contrast Elisha, content with a “prophet’s reward,” “poor but making many rich,” with his ungodly servant, grasping great treasure, and acquiring trouble therewith. But observe, too, how Abraham and Joseph of Arimathea, both wealthy men, were “rich” also “toward God.” Also, how Judas Iscariot, a poor man (to whom thirty shekels was an object) was infinitely more poor in that he emptied his heart of Christ.

Application.—That religion is the sweetener as well as the sanctifier of life, is a truth hard to be received. Yet this the inspired Word teaches everywhere. The heart, in its alienation from God, craves happiness without Him, and thinks to find it in money and what money procures. Now, “the love of money is the root of all evil,” but money itself is not. Let us admit its value, but insist that a religious use of it will immensely augment that value; so much so that “a little” under that condition is far better than a “treasure” without it. The possessor of wealth will allow that it involves great trouble and anxiety in its preservation, its investment, its expenditure. And doubtless there is a reward for the trouble if the money be husbanded and made use of religiously, so as to increase the happiness of its owner, by enabling him to do good. But if this be not so, then the burden of management is greater than the return of satisfaction, and it may become a source of intolerable disquietude, as e.g. when litigation or family feuds arise out of it. Let me strive, then, to make good use of what God gives me. If much, and trouble therewith, yet a conscientious use of it will tend to sweeten life, and may even improve instead of darkening my prospects for eternity. If little, yet, religiously handled, it will bring less trouble and fewer temptations with it. Whether much or little, the great truth to be accepted is that only through the fear of the Lord can money become a real blessing.

May 15th

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.”—15:17.

Interpretation.—Vegetables represent the simplest diet (Dan. 1:12), while meat, specially of fatted oxen, was the holiday fare of Eastern peoples. Thus our Lord, in two of His parables, alludes to “oxen and fatlings” and “the fatted calf” in connection with social festivity. The word rendered “dinner” signifies a portion or ration (Jer. 52:34). Thus the contrast is between a very humble meal shared by one or more, and a dinner-party at which many guests, and those of the well-to-do class, are entertained. Let friendliness and harmony prevail at the one, and ill feeling intrude at the other,—who can doubt which of the two would be the more agreeable?

Illustrations.—Elijah and the widow of Zarephath shared a very humble meal, but the charity of the prophet and the gratitude of the poor woman gave it a flavor and a relish which were utterly wanting to those much grander entertainments at which murderous thoughts obtained, presided over by Absalom and Herod. On the other hand, we see how bad passions may obtrude themselves into the simplest (and most sacred) meal, in the case of Judas, with traitor’s hand on the table, at our Lord’s Last Supper; and false brethren like “spots,” or “sunken rocks,” at the Christian agapæ, or love-feasts, later on (Jude 12).

Application.—In this proverb, love to our neighbor is represented as sweetening the social meal. The plainest fare may be far more enjoyable than the most luxurious banquet. The difference between man and man lies in the heart far more than in anything external. There are comrades in labor, there are cottage households, to whom, united by true mutual regard, the social meal, as plain and cheap as possible, affords real pleasure, especially if “it be sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.” There are owners of mansions, on the other hand, with every luxury at command, whose daily common repast is a daily trial through contrariety of tempers, and whose formal parties give little or no real satisfaction through the absence of geniality and friendliness. Love will sweeten the meanest food. Hatred, or the absence of love, will embitter the richest feast. Not riches, then, nor yet poverty is the secret of social happiness—but love. There are rich people who live harmoniously, and doubly enjoy their abundance. There are poor people who quarrel over their herbs. There is hospitality which gives genuine pleasure because so hearty; and a frigid reception of guests, lacking the spirit of hospitality, which repels;—and this, in either case, quite independent of externals. “To walk in love as Christ also hath loved us,” this is the one secret of social joy, and this we learn of Jesus by having Him as our Guest.

May 16th

He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; but he that hateth gifts shall live.”—15:27.

Interpretation.—The avaricious man is a troubler of his own family in many ways. Contrasted with him is the man who hates avarice and all ill-gotten gain—as, for example, the receipt of bribes so common in the East, or usurious transactions, to which the Jews as a nation have always been addicted. The first of these two characters, it is implied, will not be happy or prosperous in the true sense of the word; the second shall live to good purpose, enjoy life, and achieve prosperity.

Illustrations.—Lot, yielding, perhaps, to his wife’s influence, brought great trouble and disgrace upon his family by settling down, for the sake of gain, in a vile neighborhood. Laban, by his sordid dealings, saddened the hearts and lost the services of those who might have been a comfort and a help to him in his declining years. Achan, whose greed of forbidden treasure drew down God’s wrath upon the tribes, is reproached by Joshua as having troubled them. Gehazi involved his posterity in evil by giving way to covetousness. But Abraham had strength of principle to reject the gifts of the King of Sodom, and St. Peter those of Simon Magus. And Samuel contrasts most favorably with Eli’s two sons ravening for their fees in flesh (1 Sam. 12:3, 4; 2:15, 16).

Application.—How base a passion is the love of money, even judged of only by what we see! Well has it been called “the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10), for all manner of evils may, and as a matter of fact do, arise out of it. Domestic troubles are specially glanced at here as among its progeny, and their name is “Legion.” If the passion be to hoard, the man becomes “a miser,” an epithet which proclaims both his own condition and that of his household as miserable. For, in order to save money, he will reduce the comfort and happiness of all under his power to a minimum, giving full scope to his own exacting, irritable, hard temper. But if to lavish money be his aim in raking it together, then what temptation is there to hazardous speculations, risking all to make more, and indeed, to iniquitous methods of various kinds, which not seldom terminate in disgrace! The anxiety and distress these cause to wife and family cannot be described. Too often present ruin or a harvest of future difficulties are their sad outcome. Be it mine, as an heir of glory, to guard against those two extremes by “using this world as not abusing it.” The family is God’s handiwork, which He will not suffer to be troubled with impunity. The gain of which this is the price is unjust, and all such gain is loss.

May 17th

The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge: but the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness.”—15:14 (ver. 21; 18:15).

Interpretation.—“The man of understanding,” in other words, the enlightened man, is here again contrasted with “the fool” of every class and degree—the godless one. The heart of the first having already received divine truth, is bent upon acquiring more and more of that best knowledge. While the other, with no “heart” for anything, gratifies a brutish appetite by feeding his mind upon what is purely “of the earth earthy.” The proverb, in a sense secondary to the religious one, may be understood of a difference of tastes, that for what is high-toned and improving, and that for what is frivolous and low.

Illustrations.—David, as we gather plainly from his Psalms, was always intent on adding to his stores of sacred knowledge. Solomon in his prayer sought wisdom from above, and by diligent application became conversant with all sorts of useful learning. The Queen of Sheba showed an understanding heart in her eagerness to gain information which she might turn to account for the benefit of her subjects. Nicodemus, and Mary of Bethany, and the Bereans, and the Ethiopian, were all wise enough to be teachable, and so obtained the precious knowledge they sought. Whereas, the Athenians, with their ears only open to gossip, lost their opportunity of being made “wise unto salvation.”

Application.—How widely different are the tastes of men, even men of equal standing and education! A grand generic contrast at once makes itself seen between those renewed by grace, and those who (though regenerated in baptism) still “mind earthly things.” Sin is the element of the one, just as holiness is of the other class, and each breathes most freely in its own element, and feeds upon that which is adapted to its own nature. So you will find, here, a hungering and thirsting after all good, pure, useful, elevating knowledge, divine and human. While there, the appetite is keen after knowledge only at the best “earthy,” and much of it not even useful in any way, but frivolous, sensational, debasing. Men betray their tastes by the books they read, the company they keep, the conversation they enjoy. To God and themselves their thoughts are known, and the bent of the thoughts is the index of the character. Let me try myself, then, by this criterion, with a view to my prospects in the future. For heaven will satisfy those only who have acquired a taste for heavenly things. It will not be changed to suit me; therefore I must be made meet for it. Those two divisions will outlive the world—the men of understanding and the fools. With which will my lot be bound up? According as my heart now seeketh knowledge or my mouth feedeth on foolishness, so must my final portion be.

May 18th

The Lord is far from the wicked: but He heareth the prayer of the righteous”—15:29.

Interpretation.—God, in His essence and power, is far from no one. “In Him we live and move and have our being.” Even in hell, He is there (Ps. 139:8). But He is said to be “far from the wicked,” in respect of diversity of mind and character, in the withdrawal of His sensible presence, and in His unwillingness to show them favor. Hence they have no reason to expect that their prayers will be heard so as to be answered. Whereas, He is nigh unto the righteous in all those ways. His mind and character they (to some extent) reflect. He makes His presence felt within their hearts. His favor is toward them, and His ears are open unto their prayers to answer them in the best time and way.

Illustrations.—God’s command to pitch the Tabernacle without the camp after the idolatry of the golden calf, was a withdrawal of the visible tokens of His presence and favor from Israel (Exod. 33:7). Saul’s bitter cry, “God is departed from me,” was forced from him when, on account of his wickedness, no answer came to him by prophet, or by Urim, or by dreams. But of good men whose prayers have been heard, the Bible presents instances as well known as numerous.

Application.—It is well to be reminded even of so trite a truth as this. For the belief in a personal Deity who takes cognizance of all His creatures, is the only foundation of true religion. “He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). If I believe not this, I shall not come to God. If I am persuaded, e.g., that He is unconcerned about His creatures, and, having set the wheel of nature in motion, leaves it to roll on without any moral government on His part, what motive have I for striving to please Him? But if I believe that He presides over His own laws, and will reward those who seek Him by hearing their prayers, then my heart responds, “Thy face, Lord, will I seek.” Then, moreover, conscience, enlightened by the Word, teaches that “in righteousness” only can I hope to behold God’s face (Ps. 17:15), and so a sufficient motive offers itself for a holy life. This entered upon, experience proves that prayer is heard—heard according to the condition which must always bind a Father: “If we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us” (1 John 5:14). Now, “this is the will of God, even (our) sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3). Hence my prayers will be answered only at such time and in such manner as shall subserve that great object. But what more can a child of God desire? And what more could a wise and loving Father grant?

May 19th

All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits.”—16:2 (12:15; 21:2).

Interpretation.—Man is by nature a fool. Hence, what is said elsewhere of the fool is here applied to mankind in general. His judgment, yea, his conscience, is so warped by sin, that he cannot weigh himself rightly. Accordingly, he is ready to justify, at least in his own eyes, all his ways. But the Lord looks not at the actions alone, but at the hidden motive and principle which underlies them. He “pondereth the hearts.” He “weigheth the spirits.” And much that is approved by man in his own course of life is condemned by “the Judge of all the earth,” as “weighed in (His) balance and found wanting.”

Illustrations.—Balaam was a self-deceiver, who persuaded himself that he was justified in doing that which God had forbidden. To Hazael, the prophet Elisha exposed iniquity latent within his breast, which, though he repudiated it with horror at that time, he afterwards committed (2 Kings 8:13). The typical Pharisee, so “clean in his own eyes,” was not justified of God. Pilate and the murderers of Jesus imagined themselves clean (Matt. 27:24; John 18:28); and Saul of Tarsus, misled by a misinformed conscience, thought himself acting religiously in the steps he took against the infant Christian Church.

Application.—I do well to ponder the prevalence of self-deception with a view to myself. How can I hope to escape it if I trust to my own judgment? Am I not as liable as others to be unconsciously swayed by passion, interest, or prejudice? Is not my heart as cunning as that of other men to make that which is pleasant appear right? May not self-partiality hide from my eyes what other men see and condemn in me, and much more the heart-searching God? But if I say, “My conscience approves,” have I taken good care to get such instruction and counsel from above, that the “eye” of the soul be “single,” the “light within” be not “darkness”? Alas! what errors, nay, what crimes have been committed in the name of conscience! Ought I not, then, to endeavor to weigh my spirit as God does? It is quite possible with honest purpose of heart to find out what is right in His eyes. He who holds the scales has given the standard by which to weigh, not actions only, but principles. Tried by His Word, I ought to be able to discover what my ways really are. He will aid me by His Spirit and His ministers rightly to apprehend that Word (ver. 3). I weigh a letter in scales corresponding with the imperial test, in order that it may abide that test. Shall I not weigh my motives and principles in “the balance of the sanctuary,” that “Tekel” be not written on them in heaven? And in so far as I fail, oh, may the righteousness of Christ adjust the balance in my behalf!

May 20th

Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.”—16:3 (3:5, 6).

Interpretation.—The word here rendered “commit,” used only in two other places (Ps. 22:8; 37:5), means, literally, “roll,” or “devolve.” The “works” are actions or courses of action in contemplation. The “thoughts” are designs and hopes in connection with those works. The promise is that such shall have a sure basis and result—shall not be frustrated, shall not disappoint in the end.

Illustrations.—Eliezer, laden with a heavy responsibility, devolved it upon God, and, under His guidance and blessing, discharged it faithfully and well. Jacob, in heaviness and fear, drew nigh unto God, and his hopes were more than realized. Ezra, committing himself to God’s protection on a perilous journey, found the hand of God upon him for good (Ezra 8:21–31). Nehemiah bespoke the blessing of Jehovah upon his enterprise from the beginning, and it prospered accordingly. No important step was taken by the Apostles without being first committed unto the Lord (Acts 1:24; 6:6; 13:3, etc.).

Application.—Responsibility is the price of reason, and cannot be devolved by its possessor upon others. There is a sense in which “every man must bear his own burden” (Gal. 6:5). Our spiritual anxieties and duties no brother can entirely relieve us of. Even God does not offer to make us irresponsible. But yet, if I commit the keeping of my soul to Him in well doing (1 Pet. 4:19), surely my best hopes concerning it shall be established (2 Tim. 1:12). And so with all temporal matters. I cannot divest myself of my duties and responsibilities in life, and yet I may cast all my care upon God (1 Pet. 5:7). The key to the promise of our text lies in those words of the Apostle, “in well doing.” As long as I am really striving to “walk in the light,” I may commit my spiritual hopes, and fears, and plans, and purposes, with sure confidence of a safe issue, to God’s hands. And if my spiritual matters, how much more those which concern the present life only? Two things deter men oftentimes from acting upon this advice. Either they are not sure that their plans are according to God’s will, or they deem them too trivial for so august an Ear. But let me form no plans till they have first been brought in embryo before Him who gives preventing as well as furthering grace. Next, having gained His sanction, let me trust Him as a child its mother, with all that follows. How much needless anxiety might the Christian thus save himself! “We which have believed do enter into rest” (Heb. 4:3).

Oh that trust in God may be “the rest of my care, the calm of my tempest,” and the fulfilment of all good desires!

May 21th

Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.”—16:5 (6:17; 8:13; 11:21).

Interpretation.—The pride here chiefly meant (as appears by the context) is that which betrays itself in rebellion, first in individual hearts, then in combined resistance to the sovereign will of God. The phrase “hand in hand” signifies “let them confederate as they please.” No combination of man with man shall secure that the proud “go unpunished,” still less “be held innocent” (margin).

Illustrations.—It has been taught in the Church, as gathered out of Holy Scripture, that through pride the fallen angels originally in heaven, combining, with Satan at their head, against the second Person of the ever-blessed Trinity, were cast out for ever. The Babel-builders, “confederate against God” in their attempt at universal dominion, were confounded utterly. Pharaoh, in autocratic pride, with hosts subservient to his will, thought to withstand Jehovah, but, far from succeeding, was made a monument of His power and vengeance. How often did kings ally themselves against God’s ancient people, even from the days of Abraham; and how often were they discomfited and punished! But the most wicked combination ever formed, and the one most signally overthrown and avenged, was that of “kings of the earth and rulers against the Holy Child Jesus” (Ps. 2:2; Acts 9:26). For though they did what God’s “hand and counsel had determined before to be done,” thrice “broken in pieces” (Isa. 8:9) was that unholy alliance, as have been and will be all such alliances against His Church.

Application.—Rebellion is always thought to be strengthened by confederacy. And in truth thus only can it succeed against earthly thrones. Absalom would have had no chance against his father had he not first “stolen the hearts of the men of Israel,” so that “the conspiracy was strong” (2 Sam. 15:6, 12). But the case is far different when an Almighty King is in question. For, as with Him it is all the same “to save by many or by few” (1 Sam. 14:6), so, when He lifts up His arm of vengeance it is the same, “whether it be against a nation or a man only” (Job 34:29). “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker!” (Isa. 45:9). I am not safe and strong because “I follow a multitude to do evil.” There will be “multitudes in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14), but will they escape in the day of the Lord? The parable of the tares speaks of “bundles” gathered for the burning. Now, to wink at infidelity is to combine with the infidel (Luke 11:23). But the Gospel is God’s proclamation of amnesty for rebels. If my pride scorn that, however common, however fashionable such skepticism, how shall I be held innocent? how shall I be aught but an “abomination to the Lord”?

May 22nd

A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.”—15:4 (11:30).

Interpretation.—Perhaps the sense may be best expressed thus: “A healing tongue is a tree of life: but one that is perverse (or ungoverned) causes wounding to the spirit.” The contrast is between a tongue that by gentleness and kindness has a healing influence—is (as it were) a “tree of life” (Rev. 22:2); and one that, by intemperate, unkind, offensive words, inflicts wounds, causes “vexation of spirit” (Isa. 65:14).

Illustrations.—A healing tongue had Judah when he pleaded for Benjamin; and Joseph also when he so nobly forgave and made excuses for his brethren’s crime against himself. But Ishmael in his mockery, and Shimei in his revilings, used their tongues as an instrument for wounding. The woman of Tekoah, in her touching parable on behalf of Absalom, made a successful effort with her tongue to heal the breach between David and his son. How Job suffered from the intemperate, ill-advised addresses of his three friends is well known; but what Jesus suffered through the reproaches that fell upon Him cannot be known; He whose words, spoken “as never man spake,” were and are “for the healing of the nations.”

Application.—But little acquaintance with the world is required to convince us that it abounds with sorrowful and sensitive ones. There is sorrow by reason of sin, sin unforgiven, sin working ruin to soul and body; and if I can speak a healing word in the Savior’s name, how happy may the result be! There is sorrow through discord and division in the Church, in families, and in neighborhoods. May I but prove a peacemaker in my own little circle, how “wholesome” will be the influence of my tongue; how great my reward! But there is also (in how many!) a tenderness of spirit, which is keenly alive to inflictions from heedless and inconsiderate as well as unkind speeches. Ought I not to aim at sparing such persons any needless pain, if in truth I may not add to their little stock of pleasure? It is in the power of my tongue to be as a “tree of life,” or as “a pricking briar,” to heal or to wound. Which shall it be? Surely “a tree of life.” But to that end itself must first be healed, its natural bitterness cured by the salt of God’s grace (2 Kings 2:21; Col. 4:6) poured upon my lips (Ps. 45:1, 2). It must not be too silent, lest opportunity be lost. It must not be too smooth, for a certain amount of pungency is wholesome. It must not be too sharp, dealing only with naked truth, or it may wound too deep for healing. It must be made whole and wholesome by being touched with fire from above (Isa. 6:7). It must be prompted by true charity (Eph. 4:15). I need kind words myself; let me give, and they shall be given to me.

May 23rd

A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!”—15:23 (24:26; 25:11).

Interpretation.—The “joy” here spoken of is that which a man experiences when he has made a good answer, proved to be so by its effect. Not only an “answer,” but any “word spoken in due season, how good is it!” If spoken officially (as by a judge or ruler), it will earn him popularity (24:26). If as from one friend to another, or in a council of friends, it will commend itself by its relevancy and good taste (25:11).

Illustrations.—“The Preacher” himself, pre-eminently among men possessed the gift he here extols. Witness his successful dealing with the “hard questions” of the Queen of Sheba, and the famous judgment pronounced by him. But how much more He who announced Himself as “a greater than Solomon”! To Him was given “the tongue of the learned,” that He “should know how to speak a word in season” (Isa. 50:4). All His words were of this nature, but specially note the conclusive answers by which He silenced captious objectors (Matt. 21:24; 22:15, 34), His happy mode of improving objects and events (Luke 13:1, etc., 21:1, etc.; John 15:1), His skilfully constructed reproofs (Luke 7:40; John 21:15, etc.).

Application.—“How forcible are right words!” (Job 6:25). Yes, but how comparatively rare is the gift of speaking them! To some, undoubtedly, it is an endowment of nature beyond others. The many have to lament that the right words come to them when the opportunity for speaking them is gone by. They have also to lament (how often!) having spoken not aright, or at least not seasonably. Hence the joy of having made an effective answer, by which evil has been averted or good done, by which doubts have been disposed of, scoffs silenced, faith confirmed, is confined to the few. Many, indeed, volunteer both counsel and reproof. Many take upon themselves to answer hard questions; many are instant “in season” and (specially) “out of season,” endeavoring to “do good” by their words. Alas! how many fail, nay, do harm, through their utterances being irrelevant, unguarded, or ill-timed! Well-meaning people, without good judgment, are too often mischievous. How, then, may I hope to be among the few to whom it is given to make the happy reply, to speak the word in season? Doubtless, natural quickness and good taste have much to do with it. If devoid of these, I am at a disadvantage. But “grace” will go far to supply both the one and the other, and to impart to the least gifted by nature that “speech seasoned with salt” which is the gift extolled here.

May 24th

Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.”—16:24 (10:32; 15:26).

Interpretation.—“Pleasant words” are words that give pleasure—and more. They are wholesome as well as sweet. Even as honey in the honeycomb (sweeter than that expressed from it) was valued by the ancients for its virtues as a medicine, and for its soothing properties when rubbed into a fractured limb. Probably the wise king had in mind his father’s words touching the statutes and judgments of the Lord” (Ps. 19:10). But he is speaking here more especially with reference to words such as may be spoken by man to man, and he commends such as are pleasant.

Illustrations.—How reassuring were Joseph’s words to his conscience-stricken brethren! What refreshing intercourse took place between Jonathan and David, strengthening the hands of David in his day of sore trial, and making the friendship of Jonathan “very pleasant” unto him (1 Sam. 20; 2 Sam. 1:26)! The “pleasant words” customary between Boaz and his work-people must have had a wholesome influence upon their mutual relations. But what can compare with “the gracious words” which proceeded out of the mouth of Jesus, their great Descendant after the flesh? What but the same sweet truths, “the wholesome medicines of the doctrines delivered by Him,” as taught and administered by His ordained servants?

Application.—“Pleasant words are a pure offering” to God (15:26). They are also most beneficial and necessary to man. Without them hope would be extinguished and hearts droop. A forlorn and dreary lot would be that of man. “What is sweeter than honey?” (Judg. 14:18). What but kind and gracious speech from lips which distil love? Did a little honey dropped from the honeycomb enlighten the eyes of one ready to faint (1 Sam. 14:29)? And do not words of genuine sympathy and consolation revive the mournful and the desponding? But who shall speak such words? Surely it ought to be the part of those who have “tasted that the Lord is gracious” to comfort others who are in trouble by the comfort wherewith they themselves are comforted of God (2 Cor. 1:4). None else can do it so effectually. But for this, I must be a Christian indeed, and so, happy in myself. The bees are types of prudence and chastity. Their honey is of their own gathering from the flowers God provides them. Great is their diligence and skill in storing it up and building the cells for it. So, to have at my command words sweet and healthful as honey from the honeycomb, I must aim at wisdom and purity, must frequent the means of grace (the flowery pastures of the Church), and take pains to learn the divine art of commending Christianity to the world by speech alike pleasant and profitable.

May 25th

The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things.”—15:28 (18:13; 29:20).

Interpretation.—The good and just man is here represented as employing research, thought, and judgment, in order to answer or decide questions which come before him. With him it is a matter of conscience what he says. A great contrast he affords to the wicked man, who pours forth without premeditation whatever comes into his head, even “evil things out of the evil treasure of his heart.”

Illustrations.—Elihu did wisely and modestly in deferring to answer Job’s friends till he had waited for their words and given ear to their reasons, and was “full of matter,” constrained by the spirit within him to speak (Job 32). The rulers among the Jews who poured forth wicked blasphemies against our Lord, had so little inquired into His claims as to suppose Him to have come out of Galilee (John 7:52), to be the son of Joseph (John 6:42), and to be aiming at temporal power (John 11:47, etc.). Had they examined the question of His Messiahship before deciding against Him, there would have been more of them like Nicodemus and the Arimathean among His disciples.

Application.—Most of us will acknowledge that it is the height of folly to decide a matter without due inquiry and consideration. If this be done officially, the folly is seen to be something worse than folly. But the habit of mind is the same, whether in a private individual or a public functionary, and is here condemned by God. Against this I must be on my guard. Its root is an irreligious indifference to God’s claim upon all our faculties. Once let the principle be adopted that we are responsible only to ourselves for our decisions, that “our lips are our own,” and there is no amount of folly and wickedness impossible to us. But the opposite principle acted on, “We are not our own,” but belong entirely to God, will produce the opposite effect. Then the heart, as His, will be a treasure-house open to all good desires. The mind, as His, will apply itself to find out truth. The lips, as His, will be the vent for thoughts well-conceived and judgments well-considered. What a contrast such a one to the wicked man vomiting forth his wickedness; to the self-sufficient affecting a knowledge he possesses not; to the hopeless fool so wise in his own conceit as to decide without hearing! I shall find it a good rule not to volunteer an opinion on other men’s matters. When asked for one, to take time to consider. To aim at being sound rather than at appearing smart. To say nothing for which I cannot produce a reason. To be rather silent than talkative. Above all, to speak what may tend to profit, avoiding “idle words” as evil.

May 26th

The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.”—16:1 (ver. 9).

Interpretation.—Our version does not give the most correct rendering of the original. The text must be thus read, “Man’s are the counsels of the heart, but from the Lord cometh what the tongue shall speak.” The meaning would seem to be that man has a power given him over his thoughts to conceive and arrange in order what he shall speak. But to utter such thoughts as he may have intended, especially to utter them wisely and so as to produce the desired effect,—this depends wholly upon God.

Illustrations.—Balaam’s is a case in point. His heart was bent to utter one thing—to curse Israel, and “reap the wages of unrighteousness.” But his tongue was overruled by God to utter quite another thing—even to bless Israel. The tongue of Caiaphas was constrained to speak by virtue of his gift of prophecy words which, little as he meant it, foretold the vicarious nature of Christ’s death (John 11:49–51). The Apostles were directed to leave the guidance of their tongues to God in the hour of sore need (Matt. 10:19). St. Paul be speaks the prayers of the Church that “utterance” may be given him (Eph. 6:19), which we know was given.

Application.—A lesson of humility and of trust is here taught. We are apt to think “our mouth is our own,” to say whatever we intend. But the question asked by God, “Who hath made man’s mouth?” He Himself has answered: “Have not I, the Lord?” (Exod. 4:11). It is, indeed, given us to think many thoughts and to frame speeches and answers within our minds. But what minister of the Church does not know by experience that oftentimes he has failed to deliver his mind as he had purposed, whether in a sermon or in a personal interview, to his own mortification at the time. The like disappointment, doubtless, befalls others who aim at doing good by their words. Have not I experienced it? Now, this should teach humility. On the other hand, how often has the multitude of thoughts which, chaos-like, have accumulated in the heart, been reduced to order and clothed with appropriate words by a Power which we cannot but recognize as divine? How often are other words, and far different from those conceived, spoken to the greater benefit, as it would afterwards appear, of the hearers! In this sense (as well as of acts) we see the truth of the saying, “Man proposes, but God disposes.” The same applies equally to written words. If a “tongue be the pen of a ready writer,” why is it but because the lips are “full of grace” (Ps. 45:2)? The lesson I would learn is this, never to trust to my own unaided power, but always to seek God’s aid in every effort to influence others for good, or to do myself good, by words.

May 27th

The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips.”—16:23 (vv. 21, 24; 22:18).

Interpretation.—The meaning seems to be that where there is true wisdom in a man’s heart, suitable words for expressing it will generally be found or given. And the learning of such a one, mounting up to or hovering about his lips, will add weight of argument through communication of knowledge. By the “wise” is meant primarily the religious man, but the term embraces also the possessors of good wisdom of every kind.

Illustrations.—In Jacob’s answer to Pharaoh we have a beautiful instance of a simple statement made in an instructive, striking manner, calculated to lead the thoughts of the royal hearer to a right estimate of life. St. Peter, when his own heart had been untaught its prejudices, was able to convince others out of the wisdom he himself had imbibed (Acts 11:4–18; 15:7–12). St. Paul is an example of a man who, by the wisdom given him from above, added to his acquired learning—the fruit of a liberal education—was able to adapt himself to various classes of hearers. With Jews he argued from their own Scriptures; with unlearned heathen from manifestations of the Deity in nature; to heathen philosophers he quoted their own poets. His Epistle to Philemon is a model of skill in the adaptation of telling arguments to gain a desired end.

Application.—Eloquence is a great gift, but wisdom is a greater. So God Himself taught by assigning Aaron to Moses for “a mouth,” but Moses to Aaron “instead of God” (Exod. 4:16). The eloquent mouth may be employed to win influence, whether in public or in private. The orator wields a magic power over the minds of a wrapt multitude. Even greater is the fascination exercised by one in social intercourse who has the enviable art of putting things in an attractive and convincing way. But however words may please and hold their hearers spell-bound for a time, they will produce no lasting, beneficial effect; they may win popularity, but not fame; unless they proceed from a wise heart, and learning to satisfy the judgment be added. This, true of all subjects of speech, is eminently so of those which have a religious character. Here, experience is the most important requisite—to have felt and tasted, as well as read and heard, what we speak of. Here, self-knowledge contributes a special branch of learning, that intuition of hearts which enables the speaker to adapt his words to his company. While, then, “I covet earnestly” so noble a gift as eloquence, let me remember that the most effective eloquence is from a heart running over with love to God and man, and from experience of the Lord’s doings; that divinity is not said by rote, but is what the heart teacheth the mouth; and that only the savor of Gospel knowledge is fragrant and invigorating (2 Cor. 2:14).

May 28th

A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends.”—16:28 (6:19; 17:9; 18:8).

Interpretation.—“The froward man,” or “man of Belial” (margin), is a bad man, whose ways are perverse before God, and who perverts, by giving wrong meanings to them, the acts and words of others. Whether he be said to sow strife, or (as the word may mean) to “cast it forth” as a missile weapon, the effect is equally injurious. And one most successful method he employs is to inject or dart the whispers of calumny into the ears of this one and that so as to create, first suspicion, and in the end estrangement between friends, dividing off a friend from his fellows, and even husbands from their wives.

Illustrations.—By ill-natured and unjust insinuations strife was sown between the two monarchs Hanun and David (2 Sam. 10:3, etc.). Ziba succeeded in poisoning King David’s mind against Mephibosheth, though with what amount of truth we know not (2 Sam. 16:3). Saul, at one time attached to David, was turned against him mainly through the whisperings of those who told him, “Behold, David seeketh thy hurt” (1 Sam. 24:9). What distress to the feeling heart of St. Paul did those Judaizing teachers cause who, in his absence, undermined his authority, and alienated from him the affections of his Galatian converts (Gal. 3:1; 4:16)!

Application.—The social vice here spoken of has already been condemned as one of the abominable things which God hateth (Prov. 6:16, etc.). “Whisperers and backbiters,” whether as amongst the heathen (Rom. 1:29) or as found in the Christian Church (2 Cor. 12:20), are denounced by St. Paul. “Busybodies in other men’s matters,” or mischievous gossipers, are classed by St. Peter with thieves and murderers (1 Pet. 4:15). Society would, with one voice, repudiate such characters. And yet they flourish and abound. But this could not be the case were they not secretly encouraged. There must be ears open to listen or the tongue of the slanderer would be dumb. There must be a soil prepared for it in many hearts, or whence comes so abundant a crop of quarrels from seed sown by ill-natured ones? There must be a market for his wares, or the “peddler” of scandal would not be able to retail what he picks up. The truth is that, so long as appearances are saved, slander is dearly loved by the many, rejected only by the few. Be it mine to turn a deaf ear always to the defamer of character, to his hints and insinuations, as well as to his more undisguised gossip! If talebearers were forbidden by the Jewish law (Lev. 19:16), so are they by the Christian (2 Thess. 3:11; 1 Tim. 5:13). They are the exact converse of the “peacemakers” blessed by Christ. Would I secure that blessing, I must ever set my face against “those who cause division.”

May 29th

The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.”—16:31 (4:9, 10; 3:2; 20:29).

Interpretation.—The word “if” is not in the original, but is implied by the qualifying clause, “it shall be found in the way of righteousness.” In other words, “The hoary head” which “is a crown of glory” is that which shall be “found in the way of righteousness.” The crown of glory is, in fact, “the crown of righteousness” (comp. 2 Tim. 4:8; 1 Pet. 5:4). “The hoary head” may belong to one who is found, when old age has come upon him, in the way of unrighteousness. Then it becomes a crown of shame. But from the wise man’s point of view (as expressed before), old age is the usual reward of a life spent in habits of virtue and true religion.

Illustrations.—To Abraham, “the friend of God,” a “good old age” was granted, and respect even from foreigners (Gen. 25:10) attended him to the grave. The blessing of the venerable Jacob was prized by a heathen king, as well as by his own sons. Elisha, whose age had at one time subjected him to ridicule, was, in the decline of life, revered by all; and on his deathbed visited by the king whom he had reproved. Simeon’s nunc dimittis was even more honorable than Jacob’s, since to him it was permitted to see with his bodily eyes, what the other had waited for and died in faith of seeing.

Application.—Who has not known the good old man, rich in wisdom and experience, beloved, looked up to, honored; it may be with children and grandchildren following in his footsteps; with “two staves to lean on—the remembrance of a life well spent and the hope of eternal life”? Who has not seen such a one and felt that his grey head was a bright diadem—the pledge and foreshadowing of “the crown of glory” to come? Do I not wish to be like him? But if so I must tread the same path. Not only must I enter upon it, but pursue it to the end. The path of holy living is the true path to honor. Having given myself to the Lord, let me abide in Him, and so “be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless,” when He cometh. How will the hoary head before which men rose up and bowed down upon earth (Lev. 19:32), be irradiated with the glory of “the Ancient of days” in heaven! Jesus is thus crowned now (Rev. 1:14), and the aged saints “worthy of double honor,” will be the most like Him. The honor they receive on earth, what is it but a foretaste of this? On the other hand, many through their own folly or wickedness never attain to old age, do “not live out half their days” (Ps. 55:23). Or, if otherwise, a graceless old man, by whom is he revered? His white hairs only bespeak his ripeness for wrath. Accursed is he of God, and not unfrequently of men (Isa. 65:20).

But, oh, be it mine to lay up a store of blessings against old age!

May 30th

He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”—16:32 (14:17, 29; 15:18; 25:15).

Interpretation.—“Slow to anger” is opposed to quick-tempered or irascible. He that ruleth his spirit is one who is master, not only of his temper, but of all his passions. The first deserves more praise than a hero in war. The second effects a nobler conquest than the general who takes possession of a city.

Illustrations.—Job, by his patience under exceptional provocation from wife and so-called friends, was more worthy of admiration than Samson, that mighty slaughterer of the Philistines, who would seem to have been more or less governed by passion, even when doing the Lord’s work. Gideon’s rule over his spirit was more to his credit than even his victory over the Midianites. David was a greater man when he conquered Saul by generosity than when he slew Goliath; and by staying his hand from avenging himself upon Nabal than if he had spoiled his house. The meekness of Moses was the more remarkable considering the energy of his nature and his high position.

Application.—One is apt to admire the world’s heroes, and to call those “great” who, at the expense of others, have exalted themselves. But these, for the most part, have been miserable slaves to their own passions. As a believer in God’s Word, I must accept His judgment as to what constitutes true greatness, and I find it to be self-conquest. Far more difficult is it to subdue the enemy within than one without. “Revenge is sweet” to the natural man, and so is the glut of any strong desire. The voice of nature pleads, “I do well to be angry.” The battle-field is the heart, whereon, “without observation,” praise, or earthly gain, must be fought and won this battle. None know its cost save God and one besides. And none but God can aid in this warfare,—not the conflict of a day, but of life. However, to him who, in dependence upon God’s grace and out of love to Christ, sets himself to fight this battle and to conquer self, the victory is assured. So long as he fights manfully under Christ’s banner, and wears his spiritual armor night and day, let him not fear defeat. Present victories will be his, culminating in final and complete success. “To him that overcometh” is the promise. To be “more than conqueror” is the reward, “more than,” because, once free, nothing shall ever need conquering again, nothing ever separate him from the love of God (Rom. 8:37, etc.). Self-conquest is the secret of power. It will give me the blessing of “the meek”—to “inherit the earth.” It will give me to sit with Christ on His throne (Rev. 3:21).

Only let me fight till death, for until thenthere is no discharge in this war” (Eccles. 8:8)!

May 31st

Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker: and he that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished”—17:5 (14:20, 31).

Interpretation.—The first clause is a variation of 14:31—the mockery, perhaps, being supposed to accompany oppression, or to take its place where the power to oppress is wanting. Pleasure in another’s calamities, even those of an enemy, is a grievous sin, of which Job was careful to protest his innocence (Job 31:29). It will “not be unpunished,” although a sin which may be known to God only. The law of retribution will not seldom overtake such a sinner, or, at least, in some way, his hardness of heart will be visited upon him (Ezek. 25:6, 7).

Illustrations.—A terrible retribution came upon the Philistines while they made sport of Samson in his poverty and blindness, exulting over his calamities. St. James protests against such mock-charity as saying to the naked and hungry, “Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled,” without giving them food or clothing (Jas. 2:15, 16). Shimei’s vulgar rejoicing over his fallen monarch met with condign punishment in due time; and they who have scorned and pierced the Man of sorrows will wail because of Him.

Application.—If to “oppress” the poor is to reproach their Maker, much more to “mock” them. For no man is born to a poor estate by chance, but in the ordering of Providence. And it is by the same a man falls into poverty, even though it be the consequence of his own folly. But as it is a feature of divine greatness to regard poverty, so is it of human littleness to despise it. Moreover, it is treason against the Great King to trample upon even the humblest coin stamped with His image, as my poorest brother is, equally with myself. God made him poor that his fellow-men should exercise sympathy and compassion towards him. Or, if his poverty has overtaken him or any other calamity, can I as his brother rejoice? Nay, if it be the fruit of his own misdoings, ought I not, then, rather to be sorry for him? If he be my enemy, ought I not for that very reason to relieve him (Rom. 12:20, etc.)? If he be a friend, shall I allow the truth as to myself, however it may be true of corrupt human nature in general, of that odious sentiment of a French philosopher: “In the adversities of our best friends, we find always something which does not displease us.” God forbid! Every motive of Christianity makes such a sentiment impossible to a Christian. Even if the love of Christ constrain me not, the fear of consequences must. For surely such a spirit shall not go unpunished. It tempts God (so to speak) to put the same cup of calamity into the hand of the exultant one. It must exclude from heaven.[1]

 

 

[1] Pearson, C. R. (1880). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 1, pp. 122–152). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)

 

June

June 1st

Whoso rewardeth evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house.”—17:13.

Interpretation.—The meaning is very clear. The ingratitude spoken of is not that mere passive ingratitude, the fruit of an ignoble selfishness, which makes no return, but active ingratitude which makes a bad return for good done. There is something so fiendish in this as from man to man; it betrays a heart so base, so hard, as to excite God’s severest displeasure. And, as it must needs proceed from a radical defect in the nature, so its consequences will lap over to a man’s posterity, partly through natural causes, and also from judicial infliction marking the divine abhorrence of the sin.

Illustrations.—All sin is ingratitude of this nature. Hence, its consequences are hereditary. From the days of Adam evil has not departed from his house. The Jews, as a nation, have found their own malediction fulfilled; the blood of Jesus, so ungratefully shed by them, has been upon their heads and the heads of their children ever since. But if we confine the proverb to the ingratitude of man to man, we see examples enough of its truth. Saul’s persecution of David was a sin of this nature, and recompensed upon his own house. But David himself returned Uriah’s good service with evil, and incurred the sentence, “The sword shall not depart from thy house.” And upon Ahithophel who basely deserted and opposed his friend David (though an ugly grievance may have been his excuse), and upon Judas whom he typically foreshowed, came those terrible curses uttered in Psalms, not by David, but by the Holy Spirit speaking through him (Ps. 55:12–15; 109:5, etc., 69:24, etc.; Acts 1:20).

Application.—Ingratitude is a vice which all with one consent condemn. There is no means of hiding its deformity. It stands confessed as hideous baseness. In cases where neglect of a friend or benefactor is its outward sign, there is no redeeming point about it. But where actual evil is returned for good, its blackness is the blackness of hell. It has been well said that “to return good for good is human; to return good for evil is divine; but to return evil for good is devilish.” Good for evil is the Bible law from first to last. And if to return evil with evil be forbidden the Christian under heavy penalties (Matt. 6:15), how much more to return good with evil! True, we all do this every time we sin against God, who maketh His sun to shine on the evil and the good alike. And, unless we obtain forgiveness for such graceless conduct, surely the threatened curse will be ours. It is so in the case of too many: hence such prevailing misery in the world, But for man to display such ingratitude toward “his brother whom he hath seen” is even less pardonable, as the Apostle’s argument would each (1 John 4:20).

June 2nd

The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with.”—17:14 (13:10; 14:29; 15:1).

Interpretation.—The figure here employed is taken from the bursting of a reservoir. Solomon may not improbably have had practical experience of such an accident on his own estates (comp. Eccles. 2:6 with Ecclus. 24:31). There is a slight fissure at first, then, if this be not stopped, the opening widens, then by degrees the bank becomes disintegrated, at last the water pours forth with increasing violence and sweeps all before it. The devastation which ensues might all have been prevented had the first oozing forth of the water been checked, or even the widening gap been filled up. And just so, what disastrous and sometimes widespread consequences might be averted by arresting a quarrel at its commencement!

Illustrations.—Had Jephthah answered the men of Ephraim as Gideon did, how much loss of life would have been spared (Judg. 8:1–4; 12:1–6)! Abraham nobly yielded to his nephew, and they parted company as good friends. David showed wisdom in turning a deaf ear to his enemies (Ps. 38:13). The indignation of the ten Apostles against the two might have led to a serious breach had not Jesus taken the word out of their mouths.

Application.—To “follow after the things that make for peace” (Rom. 14:19) shows a Christian spirit. But the natural man is for strife until affronted pride be appeased. However I may approve in theory, I shall never be able to practice the rule of the text till my pride is subdued. The first word of offence will be followed by others, leading on to a quarrel, and passions once let loose, who shall set bounds to? It is a safe maxim not to open the lips in hot blood, but who can act upon it except the Christian who has deliberately chosen the path of peace and holiness—putting self-pleasing aside? We see how quarrels between children spring from the various trifles, and men are but children of a larger growth. The most destructive elements furnish figures in Holy Scripture to illustrate the violence of ungoverned passion, and the impossibility of saying to it, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further” (Job 38:11). Forbearance, then, is a domestic jewel and a social virtue, and nowhere more needed than on questions of religion, which touch men to the quick beyond any questions. How may a congregation, a parish, a whole Church community be devastated by a strife between two only, which began as a brook, and swelled into a river, and widened till it became an ocean (Ecclus. 24:31)!

May God enable me to subdue pride in my heart, so that I may the more easily repress temper at the lips!

June 3rd

He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord.”—17:15 (24:24).

Interpretation.—“He that treats the unjust as just, and the just as unjust” (such is the literal translation), “even they both are an abomination to the Lord.” The force of the word “both” lies in this, that whereas it might seem a more pardonable offence to be too lenient than to be too severe, the injustice of the one and the other is equally abhorrent from righteousness, and therefore equally an abomination to Jehovah.

Illustrations.—Samuel’s sons “took bribes and perverted judgment,” as did those in Isaiah’s time, upon whom a woe was pronounced (Isa. 5:23). The same crime, in its forensic aspect here condemned, reached the perfection of iniquity when Barabbas was acquitted and Jesus sentenced to the cross. They also are condemned “who call evil good and good evil” (Isa. 5:20), as those Jews who called Jesus “a sinner” (John 9:24) and confounded the works of the Holy Spirit with those of Beelzebub (Matt. 12:24, etc.), and those teachers in the Church who, out of “greed of filthy lucre,” pervert the truth or “shun to declare” any part of “the counsel of God.”

Application.—The judge is “the minister of God” (Rom. 13:4), ay, His representative on earth. His office is to restrain evil and promote righteousness. To misuse his power for the inversion of these ends must needs be a dire offence against God. The same is true of juries, witnesses, prosecutors, counsel, in their degree. In every case one object should be paramount—to do justice. Personal considerations must all give way to this. If I am a juryman, let me put aside all prepossessions and all thought of personal convenience. If a witness, let me be careful to say neither more nor less than the truth, to color no statement for or against another. If a prosecutor, let me take heed that eagerness for my own cause does not hurry me into hasty assumptions, wrong constructions, misleading assertions. If an advocate, I must be sure not knowingly “to justify the wicked,” nor yet to asperse the innocent; and must throw up my brief when to hold it would involve me in either this or that injustice. As a layman, I must endeavor to “judge righteous judgment” on all matters that come before me, and never for fear or favor confound evil and good by countenancing the one or discouraging the other. Let me beware of allowing my judgment to be warped by arguments drawn from expediency, which, when it pleads against truth, is the devil’s advocate, and has often done the devil’s work. And should I have been ordained “a preacher of righteousness,” oh, may I be able to say at each stage of my ministry, “I am pure from the blood of all men” (Acts 20:26)!

June 4th

A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”—17:17 (18:24).

Interpretation.—This proverb may be taken in more senses than one. According to our version, the friend and the brother are two distinct parties. Each is constant in his attachment. But even more than to a friend one may look to a brother, as given by God to be a kind of natural stay and refuge in time of need. Another interpretation makes the friend to develop under a crucial test into the brother, to be born (as it were) out of the womb of calamity. In either case, the description is that of a true friend, as contrasted with those fair-weather friends who fail when most needed.

Illustrations.—Abraham’s love for Lot survived all causes of offence, and led him to risk his life and the lives of his household in behalf of his nephew. Joseph not only loved his brethren at all times, but might seem to have been born for the very purpose of succoring them in their dire necessity. Ruth’s devotedness was then most seen and felt when her mother-in-law was returning stricken and empty to her native place, and “Ruth clave unto her.” But who is the Friend above all others true and constant? Who the Brother emphatically and supernaturally “born for adversity”? Is it not Jesus, “Who, having loved His own unto the end” when upon earth, has continued to love the Church, and proves Himself to all who trust in Him the Friend, even unto that last extremity when an own brother must let go his loving grasp?

Application.—Few indeed are they who do not feel a friend to be a necessity. Even a brother does not always supply the void. “There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother,” who in time of adversity is, as it were, born unto a more than brotherly relationship to his suffering friend. Such was Jonathan to David, one who not only became as a brother, but whose love passed that of women (2 Sam. 1:26). The lesson I am to learn is to choose those as friends who may be relied on in time of need. Now, real friendship is the union of soul with soul (1 Sam. 18:1). And, therefore, to be complete and lasting it must have its foundation in the love of God. All other friendships are liable to change and decay, are mostly “brittle stuff,” must come to an end at death. Be mine the friends who love “Him whom my soul loveth,” or at least desire with me to love Him. Such friendships will outlast all little differences, will be reliable at all times, will develop under trial into brotherhood. Let me be careful, moreover, to show myself friendly, not ready to take offence, soon appeased, prompt to offer aid and sympathy. So may I hope to deserve such friends as shall prove themselves true.

June 5th

A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool.”—17:10 (9:8; 23:35; 27:22).

Interpretation.—The wise man is not only the sensible, but the religious man; the fool not only the silly, but the godless one. On the first, a single reproof (whether from God or a fellow-creature) will make more salutary impression than any number of stripes, any amount of punishment, upon the other.

Illustrations.—How touched and brought to repentance was David by a word (2 Sam. 12:7, 13), and St. Peter by a look (Luke 22:61)! But ten plagues did not suffice to turn Pharaoh from his wicked purpose. Of Ahaz it is said pointedly, “In the time of his distress did he trespass yet more against the Lord: this is that king Ahaz” (2 Chron. 28:22). The drunkard is graphically represented as saying, “They have stricken me, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it (the drink) yet again” (Prov. 23:35). But Ephraim, in his prayer, goes the right way to profit by stripes: “Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn Thou me, and I shall be turned.” And, then, that follows which is to be expected: “Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded” (Jer. 31:18, 19).

Application.—A word is enough to the wise. But no amount of correction will avail to instruct the foolish. This is true as regards matters of this world only. A sensible man lays to heart a well-merited reproof, and profits by it to avoid a recurrence of his fault. Whereas instruction, reproof, experience, each and all, fail to mend the silly and conceited man. But truer still is this from a spiritual point of view. The man who fears God, whose heart is tender, his conscience susceptible, whenever he errs or sins through infirmity is soon touched and brought back by a word from God. But the godless, the unprincipled, the sceptic, whose heart is “hard as the nether millstone,” only rebels the more and persists in his own way in spite of warning and chastisement. It is for me to judge myself by the test this proverb affords. Do I accept reproof thankfully from God, and does it work in me repentance and reformation? Am I also willing to be told of a fault by my brother, and to give due heed to remonstrance and expostulation? Reproof shows the wise man from the fool, an ingenuous, noble nature from one that is mean and sottish. As a parent, a tutor, a friend, a clergyman, I should study character, to know how best to administer reproof. Above all, let me pray for myself and others, that God may give both me and them a “heart of flesh” instead of that “heart of stone” which is natural to us all (Ezek. 36:26)!

June 6th

Wisdom is before him that hath understanding: but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.”—17:24.

Interpretation.—In other words, “The man of understanding keeps steadily before him wisdom as his object in life, the mark to aim at, the rule to walk by. Whereas, the eyes of the fool are anywhere but on wisdom, roaming hither and thither, with no definite aim or object in view.” And this holds good in regard both to things temporal and. spiritual.

Illustrations.—Nehemiah, through fixedness of purpose, his eyes being upon God, achieved a great and good work in his day, and built up a character which has served ever since as a model to men of business. Contrast the Athenians, ready to give ear to any idle news from whatever quarter of the globe, yet rejecting the good news of salvation, with the Apostle who preached to them, himself a man who had wisely looked the truth in the face, and ever after adhered to it, to his soul’s countless gain.

Application.—We have only to look around to see the characters depicted by these words. The countenances of two men will oftentimes reveal them—the steady, thoughtful, concentrated expression of one, the garish, wavering, roaming eyes of the other. Consort with them, and you will remark that one has an aim in life, while the other’s mind is filled with roving fancies which have assumed no definite form. There is a steady principle and rule of action in this man, but that man veers about with every last notion presented to his mind. Make them your fellow-travelers, and you will be struck by the way in which the first will bring knowledge to bear on all he sees, and continually be adding to his store. His comrade will gape listlessly in the midst of associations of which he is willingly ignorant, and be always looking forward to fresh and more distant scenes, by which he will as little profit. Close with them on questions of moment, whether as regards this world or the next, the most marked contrast will soon appear between the sound, judicious investor of his time and money, and the wild, visionary schemer; and far more painfully between him who has deliberately chosen the one thing needful, and him who is vaguely preferring to it all sorts of things that are needless. In the house of God should both be found, while the one is intent on his devotions, both thoughts and eyes of the other are wandering far and wide. Alas! on the bed of death the same contrast will hold good—firm, substantial, unwavering faith on the one hand; dreamy hopes and changeful opinions on the other. Thus, the man of understanding is distinguished from the fool.

O God, “turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken Thou me in Thy way”!

June 7th

A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her that bare him.”—17:25 (ver. 21; 10:1; 15:20; 23:24).

Interpretation.—Of Solomon’s three words for expressing a foolish one, the word here employed is of the highest degree of intensity. It means more than intellectual or spiritual sluggishness, and even than mere godlessness, though each grade of folly is reprobated in this Book. In verse 21 both the strongest and the least strong terms are used of a son who disappoints his father. But in 15:5 it is a word of the second degree of intensity which is applied to the bad son. So that a foolish son is always more or less “a grief” or a cause of anger to his father, and “bitterness” or grief and sorrow to her that bare him.

Illustrations.—Solomon, in his frequent allusions to a foolish son, must have been thinking, at times at least, of his own son. Though he had multiplied wives, Rehoboam was the only son born to him of whom history makes mention. And he, if not a fool in the highest, was certainly one in a lower sense of that word. Witness Abijah’s account of him as at the age of forty-one, “young and tender-hearted,” in other words, inexperienced and irresolute (2 Chron. 13:7). His incapability of governing, and general weakness of character, must have been a great source of grief and anxiety to his father (Eccles. 2:18; 10:1–4). Far worse was the folly of Absalom, over whom David shed, probably, the bitterest tears he ever shed, unless over his own sins.

Application.—Parents are primarily concerned with this proverb. If the example of both or of either be not good, if their influence tend not to the promotion of piety, if they be not instant in prayer for their offspring,—then they may expect to reap bitter sorrow and keen disappointment at their hands. Parents owe their children not only love and maintenance, but education and correction, and specially, as Christians, to bring them up for God. If they pay them not those dues, can they wonder if to them what is due be not returned? If they sow not the good seed of Christian principle and habit in the morning of life, ought it to surprise them when, instead of good fruit, noxious weeds appear later on? This, however, does not excuse the undutifulness of the child. Am I a son? Let me try to make my father’s heart glad. To this end I must aim at wisdom, both in its lower and its highest sense. To act as a fool, in whatever degree, will justly anger him, and be a grief to my mother. Let me reflect how much they have borne for my sake, and not become a burden to them when I ought to be a support—a burden heavier far to bear than, as a helpless child, I was in my mother’s arms.

June 8th

Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”—17:28 (10:19; contr. 15:2 with 29:11).

Interpretation.—This proverb follows upon commendation of sparing words and a cool spirit (ver. 27). It clenches that by its praise of absolute silence as (oftentimes) better than speech. And it leaves the inference to be drawn that this must be so in the case of “a man of understanding,” by the assertion that even a fool may, by holding his peace discreetly, obtain the credit, though undeserved, of being wise.

Illustrations.—Elihu proved himself “a man of understanding” beyond Job’s other friends, by sealing up his lips until he had heard the controversy, and was really moved to speak. Whereas, they had justly incurred the rebuke of the patriarch, “Oh that ye would altogether hold your peace, and it should be your wisdom!” (Job 13:5). In the course of His ministry, our great Exemplar often spared His own words, and reproved His disciples when in heat they uttered words which had been better unspoken (Luke 9:54, 55).

Application.—“Silence” (says an Arabian proverb) “is the covering of the stupid.” On the other hand, Solon said, “No fool can hold his tongue.” Similar sentiments are to be found in this Book (15:2; 29:11). Hence, we must conclude that the case of a fool who does hold his peace, keeping his ignorance and folly to himself, is an exceptional one. But such a man, inasmuch as he displays the power of reticence, the will to abstain from talking nonsense or giving a worthless opinion, is so far wise. “Concealed folly is wisdom.” Moreover, in the judgment of those whose knowledge of him is slight, an inferior man may, by not committing himself, be credited with at least average attainments, and his very silence be laid to the account of a prudent habit of ruminating before he delivers an opinion. But if this be so in the case of one who is, in fact, deficient in sense and knowledge, must it not add to the reputation of an acknowledged wise man to know when to keep silence as well as when to speak? There is a time for both (Eccles. 3:7). “Silence is often the best proof of wisdom.” “He that hath knowledge spareth his words” (ver. 27). To answer a matter before well hearing and considering it is folly and shame to a man (18:13). Every wise man has not the gift of eloquence, nor even of expressing his thoughts clearly in words. On some subjects there may be nothing more to be said, or a man, however wise, may have nothing to say. “Who knows not how to be silent knows not how to speak.” The wisdom of silence has often more effect than the eloquence of the golden-mouthed. It is a Christian duty to be “swift to hear,” “slow to speak” (Jas. 1:19).

June 9th

Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.”—18:1.

Interpretation.—Exactly opposite renderings are given of this proverb. It has been understood in a good sense of a man who secludes himself from all society that he may become conversant with all manner of wisdom. From the text of our Authorized Version this meaning would be deduced. But the marginal reading and reference (to Jude 19) imply a sense the very opposite to good, and this is borne out by authoritative translations of the original. According to these (though they differ), the general meaning would seem to be, “The separatist seeketh after his own pleasure, against all counsel doth he rush on” (or “show his teeth”). In this sense (which is to be preferred) we have the spirit of schism vividly portrayed.

Illustrations.—Separatists both from Church and State were not un-known to Solomon. The rebellion of Korah and his party had been a distinct act of schism, as also the worship of Micah (Judg. 17). In Solomon’s time Jeroboam was seditious. After Solomon he established the schismatical worship at Dan and Bethel. In our Lord’s time there were Pharisees, or separatists from the ordinary Jewish worshippers. The spirit of schism began to betray and develop itself in the time of the Apostles, and is thus described in its fruits: “These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit” (Jude 19).

Application.—Schism in its essence is here curtly described. It is the seeking after one’s own pleasure and opposing one’s self to counsel. This, true of political, is so equally of religious, separatists. Trace modern dissent to its origin, and you will find it sprang mainly from self-pleasing. Other and better motives there may have been, but that one, combined with impatience of authority, was the ruling motive of its leaders. The teaching, or the mode of worship, or the clergyman for the time being of a particular church, did not please them. Their hearts were set upon something different, which approved itself more to their own ideas, based upon their own (perhaps very circumscribed) reading. To be told that the Church taught this, or the Prayer-book enjoined that, revolted their pride and independence of spirit. Why should they be bound to believe and to worship as the primitive saints had done? Why should not an immediate evil (though, perhaps, purely local) be removed at once, though the axe laid to its root might sorely wound both truth and unity for generations yet to come? So, setting their teeth against all good counsels, have reasoned heretics and schismatics in every age. But, let me, a Churchman, abhor the thought of becoming a separatist under whatever provocation!

Be it my great aim, in harmony with my Lord’s last prayer, to maintain the unity of His Church (John 17)!

June 10th

A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself.”—18:2 (12:23; 13:16; 15:2).

Interpretation.—Absence of modesty is a mark of the fool. He has no delight in understanding for its own sake, would be quite content to go on knowing nothing about science, history, divinity. But in order to make a show, out of vain-glory and love of hearing himself talk, he will pick up a smattering of this and that branch of knowledge, will borrow ideas or hastily invent them on one subject and another, that he may win the reputation of being well-informed, original, and wise.

Illustrations.—Holy Scripture does not furnish illustrations exactly to the point in this case. But with reference to the most important knowledge, we read of scribes and Pharisees who picked up just enough imperfect knowledge about Jesus, the condition of His blessed Mother and of Joseph, His residence in Nazareth, His miracles, and some points in His teaching, to enable them to misrepresent, oppose, and ridicule His claims, discovering thereby not only the ignorance but the malice and hatred of their hearts. The Apostles complain of men who were “proud, knowing nothing,” but who doted about questions and strifes of words to no purpose. Such “vain talkers,” by their teaching, made “their folly manifest unto all men.”

Application.—Have I not met with men who answered to this pithy description?—men who never from boyhood were known to delight in any study; men who could not pass even a school examination in any branch of sound and useful learning; men who had never thought for ten minutes together on any question of the day? And yet these sciolists, primed with a little showy knowledge producible on occasion, would affect the air of philosophers, or politicians, or divines, and display their imagined wisdom, while wise men kept silence in sadness and disgust. Most distressing of all was it to hear such men hold forth upon religion, or perhaps against it, oracularly either way, though destitute alike of erudition and of experience. Now, the spectacle of others thus displaying, unconsciously, both folly and emptiness through vain-glory, ought it not to teach me some useful lessons? For example, to love wisdom for wisdom’s sake, and not as a mere handle for self-advancement. To go deep into the subjects I take up, and never pretend to more knowledge than I possess. To shun loquacity and be always more ready to hear than to speak. Above all, on matters of sacred and supreme importance, to be modest and reticent, and yet so to delight in them that when my heart discovers itself it may be found in the right place.

June 11th (F. St. Barnabas)

If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; if thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not He that pondereth the heart consider it? and He that keepeth thy soul, doth not He know it? and shall not He render to every man according to his works?”—24:11, 12.

Interpretation.—The imperative mood is here used, “Deliver them who are captured for death.” The admonition would seem to be addressed in the first instance to men whose official rank entitled them in some measure to interfere with, or at least protest against, an unjust sentence, such as in the East, through reckless haste and passion, was not seldom pronounced and followed by immediate execution. But it also reminds all of the duty of showing sympathy and compassion towards the fallen, and using what means they may to save them from unmerited or over-severe treatment. The motive being that God, who is man’s keeper, requires man to be his brother’s keeper. And if this be true as regards bodily death, much more of that which is spiritual and eternal.

Illustrations.—The good Samaritan by timely succour earned (like Job) “the blessing of him who was ready to perish,” whom the priest and Levite ignored (Job 29:13). Of all the Apostles, none more felt himself his brother’s keeper than St. Barnabas. Witness his timely relief (at the cost of his fortune) of the earliest Christian converts, who had risked the loss of their livelihoods. Witness his generous defence of Saul of Tarsus, at a time when to side with such a neophyte was to expose himself to cruel suspicion. Witness the shield he threw over young John Mark, whose tottering steps might else have led to downfall. Witness his zeal for souls “captured for death” by Satan (Acts 14:14), and for others needing exhortation and sympathy (Acts 11:23), and see in how true a sense Barnabas was his brother’s keeper.

Application.—The truth here asserted is an answer to Cain’s insolent challenge to the Almighty. I am my brother’s keeper, inasmuch as God deigns to be mine, and demands this recognition of His loving guardianship at my hands. “Love one another as I have loved you,” says our great Exemplar, and inasmuch as “He died for all,” this principle applies to all. Ignorance which is more than half willful will not be reckoned for innocence. He that keepeth my soul (my life, both physical and spiritual) will one day ask what I have done for the keeping of others, and will render to me according to my works.

Let me aim to be like St. Barnabas, agoodorkindman, to be imbued with that “goodness” or “kindness,” which is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22)!

June 12th

Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”—18:21 (ver. 20; 21:23).

Interpretation.—This proverb is connected with the one immediately preceding. In that the result of a habit of talking sensibly and well is said to be advantageous to himself. In this, the tremendous power which a man’s tongue exercises over his own destiny and that of others, is asserted to be equivalent to death or life. “And he that loveth it” (i.e. discoursing, for which the word “tongue” stands) “shall eat the fruit thereof,” “death or life,” according to the use, whether good or bad, which he makes habitually of his tongue.

Illustrations.—By their evil report of Canaan, the spies brought death on themselves, and led the Israelites so to act as to cause their death in the wilderness (Numb. 14). Doeg, by inflaming Saul’s anger, brought about the slaughter of a whole city of priests (1 Sam. 22:9, 10). On the other hand, the Apostle Paul and his fellow-Apostles, by consecrating their tongues to the proclaiming of the Gospel, both saved themselves and many among those who heard them.

Application.—The great alternative placed before men is death or life (Deut. 30:15). And this is, to no small extent, in the power of the tongue, which itself is an index of the heart. Our Lord teaches this when He says, “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12:37). But, although “every idle word” needs forgiveness, or must be given “account of in the day of judgment,” the habit of the tongue is that which determines the character and the future of a man. A chance word to his own discredit or to another’s hurt may be spoken by a saint. A word to be remembered for good may be uttered by one who is very unsaint-like. In either case, the “fruit” will be good or bad, according to the nature of what was spoken, for every word is seminal. But the test of the tongue lies in that which it loves to speak. “Thou lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful tongue” (Ps. 52:4). On the other hand, “They” in Malachi’s time, “who feared the Lord, spake often one to another” (Mal. 3:16). They loved to speak of the things of God. Now, every kind of word will produce fruit “after its kind.” Again, great good or hurt to others resides in the tongue. The judge, the advocate, the witness,—what power is theirs! The orator, the fluent talker, above all, the preacher,—what a responsibility rests upon them! Truly, when I reflect upon the subject, I see the need of guarding the tongue like the life. For “with the tongue is no mean, only extremes; either it is the worst of evils or the best of blessings.”

June 13th

The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit.”—18:11 (ver. 10, 12; 14:26; 10:15; 16:18).

Interpretation.—These words must be taken in connection with the context. A contrast is drawn, which a more exact translation will more forcibly express. “The Name of the Lord is a tower of strength; the righteous runneth into it, and is exalted. The rich man’s wealth is his city of strength, and as an exalted wall in his own conceit.” Then follows the secret of ruin and of exaltation—a haughty spirit on the one hand, humility on the other.

Illustrations.—Job, Asa, Hezekiah, the Apostles, are samples of good men who have found God their “refuge and strength.” Ithobal, the Prince of Tyrus, his heart lifted up by his riches, imagined himself secure till Nebuchadnezzar, sent by God, awaked him rudely out of his delusion (Ezek. 28). How was the rich fool (in the parable) suddenly and fearfully undeceived! Who would not rather be found with the penitent publican, disclaiming all wealth of merit, flying to God, and find finding safety in Him, than with the Pharisee, boasting himself rich in his own righteousness, while miserably poor, and safe only in his own imagination?

Application.—The possession of wealth is apt to produce mental illusions. The rich man, able to shield himself from many evils, begins to dream of being secure from all. At least he acts too often as though he were. He seems to say to gold, “Thou art my hope,” to fine gold, “Thou art my confidence” (Job 31:24). He imagines himself entrenched (as it were) in a strong city, and behind a lofty wall. Thence he would defy all dangers, and even death itself. And lookers-on are sometimes beguiled into believing that the lot of the prosperous man has no affinity with that of other men (Ps. 73). There comes a time, however, when all these fond conceits are roughly and for ever dispelled. The city of strength, the exalted wall, turn out to have existed only in imagination, a castle in the air, a house built upon the sand. The city falls at the sound of the trump of God. The wall, daubed with untempered mortar, is brought down to the ground under judgments of the Almighty One. Have I not seen the boastful man prostrate under sickness, bereavement, conviction of sin, or in the near prospect of death? What was the lesson taught me by such a spectacle? Surely, to dread the intoxicating effects of wealth, of continuous prosperity, of human ambition, of unvarying health. Surely, to pray to be delivered from self-deceiving. Surely, to desire to walk humbly with my God, and to be brought through depths to heights rather than the other way. Surely, to fly to the strong Tower in which only the sinner can be safe—to God as revealed in Christ.

June 14th

The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?”—18:14 (15:13; 17:22).

Interpretation.—The contrast between the two spirits here in question is brought out in the original by a contrast of gender. The one which is able to bear sickness and other trials is masculine. But the pith of manhood has been lost to the other, it has become feminine in its disheartened state. There is a vast difference between outward and internal evils. The first may be endured by mere strength of will and courage. But for the others a strength beyond man’s is needed. Thus, the question of the text is answered; failing that supernatural support, they become quite intolerable.

Illustrations.—Job was supported by the spirit within him under the sorest external trials which ever befell a man. St. Paul was able not only to endure, but to glory in his infirmities (2 Cor. 12:9). How joyfully did the martyrs take the spoiling of their goods, their bonds, their tortures, their deaths (Heb. 11:35)! But Cain, and Saul, and Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), and Pashur (Jer. 20:4), and Ahithophel, and Judas are all examples of men to whom trouble of one kind or another became quite unbearable.

Application.—We speak of men showing spirit under heavy trials and discouragements, and for the most part we admire them. Instances of such fortitude abound among the heathen. Of Christians more, far more, might be expected. If manly courage and resolution will generally support the one, ought not divine strength, through union with the God-man, to be at all times the stay of the other? Here is the grand distinction which assures to Christianity its vast superiority over every other faith. Not only does it impart to its disciples the spirit to endure all that other men have endured, but more—to survive the wounding of the spirit itself. There is no wound more poignant than that which an awakened conscience inflicts. There are other and sore wounds caused by treachery of friends, disappointed hopes, loss of health or property, unrequited love. The spirit of a man left to himself is unable to bear more than a certain amount of pain. It sinks into abject depression. It courts and even compasses escape from the world by death. But here the Gospel comes to a man’s relief, if he will but heed it. From an agonized conscience it delivers, shedding peace into the soul, “the peace of (a reconciled) God.” Under every other burden it sustains. The wounded spirit, having done its work and driven the soul to God, is itself in due time made whole.

Oh, may I learn to love and trust that Hand which, thoughIt maketh sore, yet bindeth up, though It wounds, yet maketh whole” (Job 5:18)!

June 15th

The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.”—18:15 (17:16).

Interpretation.—The two characters here described are really one and the same. He who has the heart to get knowledge has also the ear to seek knowledge. For the possession of it creates the desire for more. And where there is the appreciation of and determination to acquire it, the ear becomes a willingly obedient and very useful handmaid to convey it to the mind. The knowledge spoken of is (as usual in this Book) all useful knowledge, but specially that which pertains to the dealings of God with man.

Illustrations.—The Queen of Sheba is an example, condemnatory of many, of one thoroughly in earnest to gather information, her ears open to receive all that the wise king could impart to her. Mary of Bethany, how gladly she sat at Jesus’ feet to hear His word,—that word which made “blessed” the ears of them that heard it! Nicodemus, what risks he ran that he might learn for himself the doctrine of the new Prophet; and did he not go on to learn more till he became “wise unto salvation”? The Ethiopian, Cornelius, the Bereans, all were prudent and wise in that they inquired for themselves about the truth of Christianity, and both sought and got that saving knowledge which is beyond all price.

Application.—“The Preacher” would have us understand the true use of the organs with which God has endowed us. Much is said in this Book about the eye, the hand, the tongue, the ear, as being given in trust for God, and capable of use or misuse, for good or for evil. The eye and the ear, as being the two principal gates of the imperial palace of the soul, are its chief inlets of knowledge; and now it is the ear whose great functions we are to consider. Through the portals of this marvelous structure words are conveyed to my brain which exercise a direct influence upon my life present and future. Some I receive into my mind involuntarily, but it lies greatly in my power to choose what I shall hear. I am advised to open my ears to knowledge, but certainly not to that of evil. Only the things that I may “think on” (Phil. 4:8) may I voluntarily hear. It were wise to gather knowledge in this way, exercising discrimination—knowledge which may serve me in my professional calling or business, whatever that may be; information upon all lawful subjects which may be turned to good account. But still more wise to acquire thus an insight into God’s Holy Word, and the teaching of His Church, and the rationale of Christian worship, so as to become an intelligent Christian as well as a devout one. Never let me lose knowledge through lack of attention or through shamefacedness in asking questions; and do Thou who commandedst to “hear” give me “the hearing ear” (20:12)!

June 16th

The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.”—18:10 (14:26; 29:25).

Interpretation.—By “the Name of the Lord” we understand God as revealed to man in His Word—a gradual revelation, culminating in Christianity. “The righteous” are those who are in covenant with God, and striving to live accordingly. To run into His Name as into a strong tower is equivalent to calling upon His Name, which rightly done secures salvation (Acts 2:21). But this is far more than invoking the Name of God. It is to believe in, to love, to fear, to put the whole trust in, to obey, Him. The soul that gives itself to Him is “lifted up” above the dangers which threaten it, is safe.

Illustrations.—These words are an echo of David’s words in Ps. 18:2. Long before David, the family of Seth, devout in the midst of a wicked generation, and strongly impressed with their own feebleness, had begun “to call on the Name of Jehovah,” had fled to “the ever-living Author of life,” as their strong Tower (Gen. 4:26). That Name was more fully revealed to Moses (Exod. 34:5–7), and still more, as time went on, to prophets (Isa. 32:1, 2; Jer. 23:6), and evangelists (Rom. 15:5, 13; 1 John 4:8). And so, long after Seth and David, we find men pointed to it as their only hope (Acts 4:12), running into it (Acts 2:21, 41) and rejoicing in God’s salvation (Acts 2:46, 47; 8:39).

Application.—This proverb has come before us already in contrast with another which speaks of a very different fortress (ver. 11). But it deserves to be considered by itself. For can I doubt my own need of such a Tower? Where, then, can I flee and be safe from an accusing conscience, from an avenging law? “Salvation will God appoint (and He only) for walls and bulwarks” (Isa. 26:1). Where shall I be protected against the fiery darts of the wicked one, and of those who do his bidding upon earth? “God is faithful, who will not suffer (me) to be tempted above that (I am) able” (1 Cor. 10:13). Where shall I find a refuge in the hour of sickness and sore temporal trial? “The peace of God will ‘fortify’ or ‘garrison’ (my) heart” (Phil. 4:7). And where in prospect of death and judgment and eternity? Only in the Almighty God, “who is a most strong Tower to all them that put their trust in Him.” These are “great and precious promises.” But let me remember to whom they apply. To the “righteous” only—to him who dwells in Christ, “the Lord our Righteousness,” by sacramental union cemented by a living, fruitful, sanctifying faith. The Tower is not a sanctuary for the presumptuous, but for the penitent and believing soul. Outside is darkness, danger, death. Oh, may I remain within, where alone is light, security, and life—for evermore!

June 17th

He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”—18:13 (21:23).

Interpretation.—The meaning of this proverb is quite clear. It condemns prejudging a matter before hearing what is to be said on both sides. It may be applied to private as well as public judgments. Prejudice is folly, and folly both is and leads to shame.

Illustrations.—Solomon did himself what he recommended to kings, and in the matter of the two harlots searched out the truth (25:2). But David, in the matter of Ziba and Mephibosheth, pronounced a hasty, perhaps an unjust judgment. The magistrates at Philippi were made ashamed of their hasty proceedings against Paul and Silas. What was the real cause of the hatred and persecution of our Lord but prejudice leading to a foregone conclusion against Him, as He Himself testified (Luke 22:67, 68)?

Application.—Not only to the office of the judge and magistrate does this advice pertain. In their case, indeed, armed as they are with power, too much pains cannot be taken to sift evidence, so as to get at the truth before pronouncing a decision. An official who, through partiality, or impatience, or laziness, or conceit of his own understanding, concludes a case without having fairly heard it, is an “unjust judge,” and shame will be his award. But for private life, as well as public, the rule is a salutary one. It is bad manners (to say the least) to “interrupt men in the midst of their talk” (Ecclus. 11:8). But more, it leads to very grave misunderstandings. I may thus be hurried into doing a friend injustice, misinterpreting an argument, plunging into a wrong conclusion. Half the scandal circulated has its origin in imperfectly heard or comprehended statements of fact. Of the mistakes made in life a large proportion arise from hastily formed judgments. What is error and heresy but mostly partial truth? What is party spirit but the offspring of one-sided prejudice? Under the influence of this I may, as a master, award praise and blame where equally undeserved, to the injury of all concerned. As a teacher, I may deprive others of much truth by not presenting it in its due proportions. As an individual member of the Church, I may practically not rise above the sectarian. But for what purpose is education, if not to enlarge the mind, to strengthen the reasoning powers, in a word, to correct prejudice? And what gift of the Spirit is more to be sought than the promised one of “a right judgment in all things”? Having this, I shall be preserved from the grievous fault of forming precipitate and ill-considered opinions to my own damage and that of others, to the perpetration of folly, to the reaping of shame.

June 18th

A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.”—18:16 (17:8; 19:6).

Interpretation.—The word “gift” is capable of a good or a bad sense. In this proverb it refers to the Eastern custom of presenting a gift or introduction to a person of higher rank. Thus, generally, it comes to mean that liberality—an open hand—will secure a man admission into society above what he would otherwise gain access to.

Illustrations.—Jacob, both in the case of his brother and of the governor of Egypt, showed a knowledge of human nature which was characteristic by the judicious presents with which he conciliated their favor. Eliezer had in the same way obtained admission into Rebekah’s house. Abraham refused as a gift what it was expedient should be secured by purchase, but not the less courteous was the offer on Ephron’s part (Gen 23:10, etc.). Ehud (but with sinister intent) gained admission to the private audience chamber of a king by means of a present (Judg. 3:15, etc.). There were liberal men (like Barnabas) in the early days of Christianity, who devised liberal things, and they gained the more influence in the Church.

Application.—Little men are those “great men” into whose presence “a gift” procures admission, which would be refused to mere sterling worth of character. And of an ignoble nature must he be who would purchase access to the drawing-rooms of the class above his own by making presents to individuals or offerings to some pet institution of theirs in order to win favor. This is only a species of bribery without the name, and both they who tender and they who accept it deserve the disappointment which usually ensues. But to cultivate an open-hearted, free-handed spirit, as becoming to a Christian and likely to recommend Christianity,—this is quite another thing, and I shall be wise to do it. For, as love begets love, and a gift bespeaks love, generosity will never fail to promote friendship. “Every man is a friend to him who giveth gifts” (19:6). Often it is not the value of the gifts that conciliates so much as the thoughtful kindness they reflect, and the grace with which they are bestowed. Society opens its arms to the generous-hearted,—at least the society which is most desirable, and they are welcomed to the houses of the “great” as well as of the poor. The latter class are not, as a rule, to be won over to the Gospel unless timely aid be given in their temporal necessities, according to the principle laid down by the Master (Matt. 10:7, 8), and His own example in giving us Himself, the “unspeakable Gift,” that He might win us to God.

June 19th

He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbor cometh and searcheth him.”—18:17.

Interpretation.—This proverb teaches that a man’s own course will often appear to himself unanswerable, and even so to a judge on its first representation. But a few searching questions, whether from an impartial friend, from the other party concerned, or at the hands of opposing counsel, will not unfrequently quite alter its aspect, and expose its fallacies. Hence, the importance of hearing and weighing both sides, and of securing sound advice to correct the bias on the side of self.

Illustrations.—Saul had succeeded in justifying himself in his own cause, but Samuel from another point of view exposed his self-delusion to the king. Job needed the faithful searching out of an Elihu to correct his imperfect views of the controversy between himself and God. Tertullus gave a very plausible account of the case against St. Paul as promoted by his accusers, but a few straightforward words from the accused one put the matter in a very different light (Acts 24). SS. Peter and Barnabas had convinced themselves and others that they were right in dissembling their views about the law, until St. Paul, by his plain-speaking and cogent arguments, showed them their mistake (Gal. 2:11, etc.).

Application.—To “judge righteous judgment,” it is a first principle that both sides be heard. This applies primarily to courts of justice, but in its degree also to questions of character and other questions in social life. How often is the first statement found, upon inquiry, to have been partial, exaggerated, distorted, or at the least (perhaps involuntarily) colored. Examination, eliciting by degrees the whole truth, frequently, though not always, so modifies as to change the complexion of the original evidence. Hence, the familiar proverb, “One tale is good till another is told.” Nor may we always assume that the misstatements exposed were intentional. Most men are unconsciously so biased by self-love and the instinct of self-preservation as to be incapable of judging in their own cause fairly. How needful, then, to submit our matters to an umpire, whose impartiality is above suspicion! In all questions of a personal nature the candid advice of a disinterested party is of service—in cases of conscience a spiritual guide may be invaluable. Not that we can ever devolve our own responsibility upon another. Not that we are to substitute human direction for divine. We shall seldom go far wrong in stating our case, if we have honestly submitted it beforehand to our Judge and Friend above. And he who thus habitually looks upward will be far more anxious to be true than to appear right.

June 20th (Queen’s Accession)

A king that sitteth in the throne of judgment scattereth away all evil with his eyes.”—20:8 (ver. 26; 16:10; 19:12).

Interpretation.—The “throne of judgment” is the tribunal of strict justice, the opposite to the “throne of iniquity” (Ps. 94:20; Jer. 5:28). On such a tribunal, Solomon himself was wont to sit (1 Kings 3:16, 10:9), in the best years of his reign (2 Sam. 15:2). That throne was very magnificent, of ivory overlaid with gold; and two lions (probably of gold) stood on each of the steps, and on either side of the seat. To these reference may be made (19:12). Certain it is that by the terrible voice of the judge, as well as by the flashing of his eyes, offenders against the laws would be gradually “sifted out.” The wise man echoes here the dying words of his royal father, “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Sam. 23:3).

Illustrations.—We read of David’s judicial indignation flashing out against the slayer of Saul (2 Sam. 1:2, 16), the assassinators of Ishbosheth (2 Sam. 4), the supposititious offender of Nathan’s parable (2 Sam. 12:5). His pious determination was to “cut off all wicked doers from the city of the Lord” (Ps. 101:8). Solomon in like manner pronounced judgment against Adonijah, Joab, and Shimei (1 Kings 2:24, 31, 44, etc.).

Application.—The sovereign of our land does not administer the laws in person. There is a court, however, which by its name (“King’s” or “Queen’s Bench”) reminds that the occupant of the throne is “supreme over all causes within her dominions.” The judge is the representative of majesty, and as a rule his moral influence, as well as his official power, is employed to sift the evil from the good, to scatter away the evil. How injurious would be the result were those who make and those who administer the laws to “frame mischief” thereby (Ps. 94:20)! We ought never to slur over the prayer for the Parliament, or those other prayers in the Litany and Communion Office which invoke God’s blessing upon the legislators and magistrates of the State. Still less the prayer for the sovereign, whose example and whose court give the moral and religious tone so widely to all ranks and classes beneath her sway. Thankful as an Englishman I may indeed be when I reflect on the salutary influence so long exercised in these ways by the first lady in the land. Let me remember, however, that human kings and judges are but humble vicegerents of the Most High. Before His “great white throne” (of which Solomon’s ivory throne was but a type) all, both good and evil, must stand. And then those Eyes which now “behold and try the children of men,” will in a moment separate the chaff from the corn, the evil from the good, forever.

June 21st

A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.”—18:19.

Interpretation.—Quite opposite versions of this proverb are given. But our own Authorized Version is in accordance with the text of the original. Dissensions between brethren are the most hard to be composed. The allusion in the previous saying (ver. 18) to the ceasing of contentions, may have suggested a case in which it is too often impossible to make them cease.

Illustrations.—The implacable nature of quarrels between brothers is seen in the cases of Cain with Abel, Joseph’s brethren with himself, Esau with Jacob, Absalom with Amnon, where nothing short of death was resolved and plotted. How hard to be won was Esau; how long did his “strong city” hold out! and though himself conciliated, was not the enmity perpetuated between the descendants of the two brothers from generation to generation (Numb. 20:14–21; Ezek. 35:5; Obad. 10–14)? Grace, however, will triumph, as where the “sharp contention” which for a while separated two brother Apostles, was completely and finally healed (Col. 4:10; 2 Tim. 4:11).

Application.—Experience confirms and history attests the truth of this saying. No quarrels are (proverbially) so difficult to heal as family quarrels, no feuds so irreconcilable as those between brothers, when they have reached a head. The proverb is true also in a measure of those who have been close friends, and even of members of the same fraternity. As “blood is thicker than water,” as the love implanted by nature is of the strongest, so when that natural affection gives place to enmity, there are no bounds to its vehemence. Again, as “the sweeter the wine the sharper the vinegar,” so closest friendship has often turned to deadliest hatred. The “odium theologicum,” which finds its counterpart in other professions, has its root in the overweening value naturally attached by men to their own opinions on matters they are especially conversant with and have very much at heart. In all such cases, a breach is the more deeply to be lamented, inasmuch as unity would have been a widespread blessing. I must as a brother not take liberties, not expect too much, and “leave off contention” betimes (17:14). It is generally best for brothers, however attached, not to become closely associated in business matters, unless as men of business. Friends who are not related should remember that intimacy, when it degenerates into undue familiarity, is perilously near a turning-point. From professional’ quarrels (alas! even over the sacrament of love!) largeness of heart is the alone preservative. For my part, let me have but one enemy—the devil, with him never be reconciled, with my brother never fall out!

June 22nd

The foolishness of man perverteth his way: and his heart fretteth against the Lord.”—19:3.

Interpretation.—“Wickedness overthroweth the sinner” (13:6). This is the case contemplated. The way of foolishness is slippery; hence it procures the downfall of the fool. But is not his own folly to blame? Yet, far from acknowledging that “his heart fretteth against the Lord,” he is angry with the divine laws he has violated, and even with the Author of them Himself.

Illustrations.—No sooner had Adam fallen through disobedience to a known command, than He laid the blame on his Creator. The Israelites, though their detention in the wilderness was the consequence of their own misdoing, incessantly murmured against Jehovah. Indeed, their national spirit was always fretfully finding vent in such complaints as this, “The way of the Lord is not equal” (Ezek. 18:25). Individual instances of the same fault as is here alluded to may be drawn from Old Testament history, as e.g. the case of Ahab (1 Kings 20:43), of Asa (2 Chron. 16:9, 10), of Jehoram (2 Kings 3:10). But it would be a mistake to suppose such a tendency to be confined to one nation. It has its root in human nature, and is common to us all.

Application.—There are many degrees of fretfulness. It may rage and swell “like the troubled sea” (Isa. 57:20). It may mutter perverse things with the tongue (Isa. 59:3). It may brood over matters silently. In any case, it is an unamiable state of mind. But to fret against the Lord is irreligious as well as foolish. Now, all fretting is virtually against the Lord, since whatever happens is according to His will. To Curse over ill luck, to rave against the consequences of our misdoings,—what else is this but practical atheism? Yet how often one is tempted to do it without dreaming how wicked it is! A darling scheme fails through our own fault, and we secretly blame God for not altering the law of cause and effect in our favor. We run into trouble and disgrace through ungoverned passions, and then in our hearts find fault with our Maker for creating us such as we are. Ay, too many never think of God, “He is not in all their thoughts,” except when things go wrong, and then it occurs to them to rail against Him as the marplot of their happiness. This is a sad but true picture; let me ask myself how far it applies to my own case. Unwittingly, I may have been more guilty than I should have thought possible. Let me give up fretting. Let me blame myself when my feet slip upon a way that is not good,—not God, nor even Satan. The latter cannot hurt me without my own concurrence. The heavenly Father loves me too well not to allow me to suffer for sin, to the end I may be willing to be saved from it.

June 23rd

All the brethren of the poor do hate him: how much more do his friends go far from him? he pursueth them with words, yet they are wanting to him.”—19:7 (ver. 4; 14:20).

Interpretation.—A sarcastic contrast is drawn between the condition of the rich as to friends, described in ver. 6, and that of the poor as here described. By the “brethren” of the poor are meant his near relations, by his friends, his companions. We are to suppose the case of one who was born in poverty, or has become poor through no fault of his own. It is simply as a “poor relation,” or a poor acquaintance that he is discountenanced by his relatives, and still more by other people in better circumstances than himself. To have much to do with him might be inconvenient—hence he is kept at a distance. But exigency begets importunity. The time may come when, on the ground of family ties or old companionship, the poor man shall be found pursuing these selfish ones with appeals to their good feeling, or (as some understand it) craving words (of kindness) from them, but in vain; much less kind and generous acts. The picture is one which represents too truly the selfish side of human nature; but what it describes is not (happily) a universal truth.

Illustrations.—In the tone of Job’s professed friends towards that hapless sufferer, we discern the hard, cold spirit of the prosperous worldling looking down from afar off, or as from a high vantage-ground, upon a brother in his low estate, and ignoring his appeals for pity. The chief butler can hardly have forgotten Joseph, but in his prosperity put the poor acquaintance out of his thoughts, until circumstances made it to his own advantage as well as to the other’s to remember him.

Application.—Such is the world, selfish to its heart’s core. No satire can too vividly paint its selfishness. Is it, then, worth while to seek my friends from amongst its votaries? If I have wealth and rank and patronage, and keep a good table, and can introduce to (so-called) “good society,” doubtless such friends will flock around me as thick as swallows in spring. But should misfortune overtake me, and my wealth be exchanged for poverty, then like swallows in the winter they will all forsake me very soon. Let me choose my friends for their good qualities, not their flourishing circumstances, and have only those as friends who love me for my own sake. Should a friend “come in misfortune,” how can such a fact diminish our friendship if genuine? It merely gives me the opportunity of proving myself “a friend indeed.” Were I to be found capable of blushing to own a poor relative or friend, well might I blush for myself, for I am but in name a Christian, and no true gentleman.

June 24th (Nativity of St. John the Baptist)

Delight is not seemly for a fool; much less for a servant to have rule over princes.”—19:10 (26:1, 8; 30:22).

Interpretation.—Good sense revolts from incongruity. And such is witnessed when “a fool,” an inferior person mentally, morally, and spiritually, is seen leading a soft and delicate life, with the trappings of rank and of a splendid prosperity. As these are not suited to him, so under such circumstances is he sure to make himself ridiculous or worse. Still more unbecoming, still less seemly, is the spectacle of one born in servitude and not superior to his position by education or gifts, elevated as a favorite by the weakness of his master (whether a king or not) over the heads of men, his “betters” from every point of view. The power put into the hands of such an underling is almost certain to be insolently and intolerably misused.

Illustrations.—Haman, whatever his extraction, was but a subject raised to a height of power from which, giddy with pride and ambition, he fell after a discreditable career. Tobiah, to whose name the opprobrious title, “the servant,” is constantly affixed, was probably a slave by birth, who, having been raised out of that mean position, thrust himself forward as an opponent of the rebuilding of Jerusalem till thrust away by Nehemiah (Neh. 2:10, 19; 4; 6; 13:8). It was out of keeping with order and dignity that David should have to complain of any of his subjects that they were “too hard” for him (2 Sam. 3:39), or to submit to insolent language as from Joab (2 Sam. 3:24, 19:5).

Application.—“Order is Heaven’s first law.” There are ranks and degrees among its sublime inhabitants. And so on earth. “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Cor. 14:33). We observe, accordingly, that violations of what is congruous and becoming in social life are seldom unattended by serious evils. The principle which applies to slaves and princes extends far wider. It is unwise to raise any one to a position or station of life for which he is unfitted. It would be unwise in me to accept such an elevation. Disgrace is almost sure to follow. The Apostle’s advice is good as a general rule, “Let every man wherein he is called therein abide” (1 Cor. 7:24). But if, through some natural defect, a man be unsuited to his post, let him give place to a fitter man. Far wiser to do this than to allow himself to be swayed and practically superseded by a subordinate. Harmonious surroundings are essential to true greatness. How would the Baptist have fulfilled his mission had he “lived delicately in kings’ courts” (Luke 7:25)? It was his wisdom to lead an ascetic life, and thus, though a subject, he acquired power even over a king’s conscience.

June 25th

The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.”—19:11 (14:17; 29).

Interpretation.—Discretion or worldly prudence may defer anger, as Jacob did, only till it is safe to indulge it (Gen. 34:5). But a higher discretion is here meant—that which makes a man long-suffering. The anger is deferred by the patience being extended. The frequent result is that the transgression, instead of being resented, is passed over, and to do this is, in most cases (specially where the matter is purely personal), an honour to him who does it.

Illustrations.—How long-suffering was Moses with his brother and sister when their provocation was very great! It was Joseph’s glory, greater than the high rank he attained to, so to pass over his brethren’s transgression against himself as never (apparently) to speak of it to the chief butler or Pharaoh, nor to throw it in his brothers’ teeth. Saul was never more discreet than when he made as though he had been deaf to the taunts of the men of Belial (1 Sam. 11:2–7), nor David more truly great than when, having his enemy in his power, he refused to take advantage of the opportunity. The prophet out of Judah showed a forgiving spirit in praying for the restoration of the king’s hand, which had been put forth to arrest him (1 Kings 13:6). Martha’s indiscreet zeal led her not only to reprove her sister but the Master Himself.

Application.—Not for the first time in this Book is the wisdom and glory of forbearing and forgiving taught. And yet, so little was the lesson learnt by men of old, that it needed “a new commandment” from heaven to enforce and parables to illustrate it. Has it yet been laid to heart—and by me? Till then, I must not complain if by “precept upon precept” I am reminded of it. If the difficulty of controlling temper be (with most men) so great, and if it be even harder to pass over an offence, well may exhortations to the virtues of self-control and mercy be multiplied. But, spite of all, the world will go on deeming it a duty to oneself to speak out under provocation, and a glory to take revenge. Only by the example of Jesus, only by the grace of God, may I hope to learn practically that it is wiser and nobler far to be above an enemy by forgiving, than even with by punishing him. Christ’s greatest miracle was His patience, but the same is wrought in His saints. When I take up His cross I undertake love in its breadth, and length, and depth, and height (Eph. 3:18). As wood without sap is most easily fired, so men without spiritual life are most irritable. The less of anger the more of peace and usefulness. To know Christ is to love Him, and here lies the secret of bearing and forbearing for His sake, which is a man’s true glory.

June 26th

House and riches are the inheritance of fathers: and a prudent wife is from the Lord.”—19:14 (18:22).

Interpretation.—The contrast is better marked if we substitute (as we may do) “but” for “and” between the two clauses of this proverb. “House and riches” come in the natural order of things to a son as the inheritance transmitted by his forefathers. “But—a prudent wife” is a blessing he has to seek, and it should be sought as “from the Lord,” though not without the use of the man’s own faculties, and, when obtained, to God the glory should be given.

Illustrations.—To the first man the Lord God brought the wife as His own special gift. From Him Abraham (himself thus richly endowed) sought a prudent wife for his son, his faithful servant helping him with his prayers, and Isaac accepting her as God’s gift. Wonderfully also was it brought about in the providence of God that Ruth should become the wife of Boaz. Still more, that the blessed Mary, ever Virgin, so eminent a pattern of prudence, should, saving all scandal, be united in marriage to St. Joseph. God’s hand was visibly in these marriages, but if from Him cometh “every good gift,” and if a wife be “a good thing” (18:22), how much more is “a good wife” His special gift!

Application.—Matrimony is a “holy estate” of God’s ordaining. Viewed thus, it may immensely contribute to a man’s happiness and sanctification. Out of God it is a fruitful cause of misery and evil. Like other misused privileges, what should have been “for wealth” becomes “an occasion of falling.” “A contentious woman” will turn a house into a torture chamber (ver. 13). An unchaste wife gives the deathblow to her husband’s happiness (12:4). A foolish partner plucks down the prosperity of her home (14:1). But a “prudent wife” is the very opposite of all these. She has studied and learnt the art of preserving peace by adapting herself to her husband’s ways, throwing herself into his pursuits, soothing his temper. She is too modest and circumspect ever to give cause for jealousy. “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, and” (by her wise frugality) “she will do him good and not evil.” Surely such a wife is far more precious than inherited “house and lands”! But she is not to be obtained, like them, as a matter of course. She must be sought, and that with prayer, in which parents may help. Did they more realize the issues of such a step as marriage, would they not seek a wife for their son “of the Lord”? Did the young man look before him, would he not estimate prudence in a woman above beauty and riches? A good husband is also from the Lord. In short, unions, prevented by prayer and wise considerations, are the marriages which are made in heaven.

June 27th

Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger.”—19:15 (6:9–11; 10:4).

Interpretation.—Slothfulness, or the habitual avoidance of exertion, leads on to a lethargic state which becomes irresistible. The consequence of idleness, sooner or later, must needs be suffering—that kind of suffering which an ungratified appetite creates. The proverb may be applied to the physical, intellectual, or spiritual life of a man.

Illustrations.—“Abundance of idleness” was among the causes of that grievous infatuation which overtook the inhabitants of Sodom, as well as of their vicious habits (Ezek. 16:49). So sunk in a moral lethargy were they that all the warnings of “righteous Lot” fell unheeded upon their ears, and even to his own sons-in-law “he seemed as one that mocked” (2 Pet. 2:8; Gen. 19:14). Our Lord has illustrated this truth by parables. Dives, after a life of voluptuous ease, suffers torment from an unappeased appetite. The rich fool, having imbruted his very soul, is snatched away from his stored-up treasures, with no provision made for the future. The foolish virgins wake out of their sleep to find themselves debarred the Bridegroom’s feast. The slothful servant is deprived even of that which he seemed to have, and condemned to gnash his teeth in disappointment at the loss of what he might have had. Once more—to turn from parable to fact—it is a part of the punishment of the Jews who, in a state of judicial torpor (Isa. 6:10), neglected the Word of God (both written and Incarnate), that they suffer now of long time from a famine of that Word (Amos 8:11).

Application.—The law is peremptory and of wide application, “that if any will not work neither should he eat (2 Thess. 3:10). To be sleeping instead of toiling in sowing and harvest time is the way to starve. But this is also true of the mind and of the spirit. Idle habits, contracted in youth and habitually indulged, produce gradually a state of intellectual torpor which is fatal to self-improvement. Then, sooner or later, the acute pain of hopeless ignorance, of gnawing necessity, is felt. Even worse is the effect of spiritual sloth upon the soul. A man may be wide awake to the claims of physical or intellectual labor. But of “the things which accompany salvation” a drowsy disregard may have led on to spiritual paralysis of the highest faculties of his nature. Then, what remains but that “he awake” (at the archangel’s trump, if not before), “and his soul is empty” (Isa. 29:8)? Then, since the soul was made for God, and nothing less will satisfy it, there must needs follow those unappeasable cravings which are compared to “the worm that dieth not.”

Oh, may I be wise in time, and cease to dream, and awake to the realities of life, and hunger after righteousness, and work out my own salvation!

June 28th

He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will He pay him again.”—19:17 (12:14; 14:31).

Interpretation.—There are two words for “poor” found in the original of this Book. One signifies the opposite to rich, the other the opposite to strong. The latter is the word here used. We are not, then, to understand all poor people in general (as though it were a duty to give to all sturdy beggars), but rather those who, through misfortune, stand in real need of help. The “pity” commended is, of course, that practical pity which St. James distinguishes from mere sentimentalism (Jas. 2:15; 16). The term “lendeth” is one that implies lending upon interest. To those who give to the poor God will repay a recompense.

Illustrations.—The widow of Zarephath and the Shunammite lady, who were in a position to show kindness to the prophets of God “in much weakness,” and to administer to their wants, were supernaturally rewarded of God for what they did. Was not Job abundantly recompensed in the end for his kindness and liberality to the poor (Job 29:11; 42:12)? Publius, who treated St. Paul the prisoner with courteous hospitality, had his reward in the restoration to health of his father, through the prayerful laying on of the Apostle’s hands (Acts 28:7, 8). The Philippian converts, whose readiness to give to the needy is commended by St. Paul, had the benefit of his prayers, and were greatly enriched with grace (Phil. 4:15).

Application.—Good investments are a subject of thought to many, and the monetary part of the newspaper is more studied than the Bible. That sacred Book, however, contains in these few words both better terms and a better security for my money than is to be found in the market. For here God makes Himself debtor to the pious almsgiver. He accepts as a loan to Himself what is given religiously to His poor, and undertakes to repay it with interest. The hand of the needy is Christ’s treasury-box. He marks what is put therein, accepts it as given to Himself, and will take care that the unselfish donors shall not lose their reward. Even in this life they shall be blessed in their works, and in all they put their hands unto (Deut. 15:10). The seed they thus sow shall be multiplied, and all grace made to abound toward them (2 Cor. 9:8, 10). And in the day when the King sits upon His throne, the merciful helpers of the suffering will find what they did acknowledged and recompensed as having been done unto Him. Yet, surely, this is a saying which few men believe. The many would rather lend to a rich man than to God. So little faith is there upon earth!

June 29th (F. St. Peter)

Happy is the man that feareth alway.”—28:14 (ver. 26).

Interpretation.—The fear here spoken of is a holy self-suspicion and dread of offending God, not servile, but filial, and yet not excluding considerations of God’s justice (Ps. 119:120; 2 Cor. 5:11). Such fear can never be needless so long as a man lives in a world of temptation and is liable to sin. Only in heaven, where there is no entry for danger, will there be none for fear. “Happy” then, because herein lies his security, “is the man that feareth alway.”

Illustrations.—Nehemiah’s principle of action was (as he incidentally lets us know) “the fear of God” (Neh. 5:15). This made him the man he was—religious, great, and happy. The early Christian converts, while they walked in the fear of the Lord, enjoyed the comfort of the Holy Ghost (Acts 9:31). St. Peter, through a lack of holy fear, through a self-confidence amounting to presumption, at one time almost made shipwreck of faith and hope. The story is “written for our admonition.” But we know also, how, by the grace of God, he recovered himself, and both passed the rest of the time of his sojourning upon earth in fear (1 Pet. 1:17), and by the tender, solemn tone of the warnings he left behind him, proved himself alike mindful of his own sad fall, and anxious to guard others against a similar danger, and to secure them the happiness of the man that feareth alway.

Application.—How can the righteous be “bold as a lion” (ver. 1) and yet be said to fear alway? Let the three young confessors at the Babylonian court answer this question. Before the autocrat who demanded the surrender of conscience, they stood their ground bravely. But they feared to disobey their God, and preferred death as the alternative. So then the fear of God is the secret of the highest courage. It is equally the secret of happiness. For I can only be really happy while my soul is safe in God’s keeping. To place it and leave it in His hands, this is the part of holy fear; to make myself my own keeper, this is presumption, and exposes me to every danger. To profess faith without having this fear that shrinks from a single-handed conflict with evil, is self-confidence and self-delusion. The separation of fear from faith would neutralize that essential grace. To profess the assurance of salvation without the fear of sin is not the assurance of faith but mispersuasion of a secure and profane mind. Let me, rather, while cherishing the utmost confidence in my Savior’s work in my behalf, be the more afraid of sinking and perishing if I look off Him. Let me not be “high-minded”! Let me ever “take heed”! Let me “feed with fear”! Let me “rejoice with trembling”! Let me work out my own salvation with fear and trembling, all the more because I know that it is His work in me as well as for me!

June 30th

Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.”—19:20 (12:15).

Interpretation.—In ver. 18, the duty of parents to chasten a son betimes is set forth. Here, the duty of a son to submit to parental discipline, and imbibe in early years that counsel and instruction which shall make him wise in his future, both for this life and the next. This proverb is the summing up of much that has gone before.

Illustrations.—Daniel is an example of a youth not only submitting to be taught and governed, but disciplining himself, and through human and divine counsel and instruction becoming competent to govern a hundred and twenty provinces, and wise with that wisdom which should enable him to stand in his lot at the end of the days (Dan. 12:13). What a rich harvest resulted from Timothy’s early attention to his mother’s teaching, so that he was found meet to bear rule in the Church, and “wise unto salvation”! But Rehoboam and Amaziah, through not heeding advice, spoilt their prospects in the future. What a pitiable spectacle was Rehoboam, at the age of forty, with no more wisdom or force of character than a boy (2 Chron. 13:7), spite of all the counsel and instruction offered him! How little deserving of respect was that “old prophet,” who, employing his wits and his experience to cajole a younger prophet, stored up bitter remorse for his future (1 Kings 13)!

Application.—This lesson is primarily for the young. To them it is of unspeakable importance to be willing to be taught, reproved, disciplined, while the character is plastic and capable of being molded on a right pattern. But youth is apt to resent correction, to weary of instruction, and to despise the counsels of experience. Unless, however, this tendency be overcome betimes, the whole future of the boy must suffer. An unprofitable life, an unesteemed old age, succeed as a rule to early days misspent. Yet, there have been instances of time redeemed, and seed late sown yielding a surprising harvest—enough to encourage the penitent, but not the careless. Most worthy to be admired and imitated, however, is the career of the wise man, commencing with “the day of small things,” then, like a river augmented increasingly by its tributaries, acquiring more and more the dignity of knowledge and experience, benefiting others in its course, and admired of men, till it terminates upon earth, only to expand in infinite grandeur beyond this earth. Who would not desire so to live as to have wisdom to impart to others, and wisdom wherewith to meet the tremendous crisis? Most men die as they live. Be it mine so to cultivate wisdom, that I may be found wise, not a fool, at my end (Jer. 17:11)![1]

 

 

[1] Pearson, C. R. (1880). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 1, pp. 153–182). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)

July

July 1st

A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment: for if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again.”—19:19.

Interpretation.—This proverb may be connected with the one which immediately precedes it (ver. 18). In that (rightly translated) there is a caution against chastising a son in a passion. “Chasten … but do not desire to destroy him.” Such “great (excessive) wrath” in a parent would be sure to bring its punishment; yea, as a general rule, punishment will follow upon unrestrained temper in the case of any man. For even “if thou,” as his friend, or, acting as his surety, “wardest it off, yet thou shalt add” to deliver him a second time.

Illustrations.—Saul casting a javelin at his son is an instance of a parent forgetting natural affection in a fit of ungoverned passion (1 Sam. 20:33). The melancholy from which this king suffered (1 Sam. 18:10) was probably the reaction from those violent tempers which he gave way to both towards Jonathan and David, though more than once “delivered” by being shown their unreasonableness (1 Sam. 24, 26). Nebuchadnezzar’s rage and fury brought punishment in the loss of “the most mighty men that were in his army” (Dan. 3:20, 22). The Jewish law inflicted terrible retribution for acts of passionate violence (Exod. 21); and St. Peter exposed himself to “punishment,” though the Lord delivered him (John 18:10; Luke 22:51).

Application.—God in His wisdom brings various motives to bear upon man’s complex nature. Here I am advised to learn to curb temper by reflections upon its dangerous consequences. Under its influence even a father has been known to slay or grievously injure his own child, thereby laying up for himself a lifelong sorrow. And have I not known men who have again and again required the good offices of friends to extricate them from broils through sheer want of self-control? Yet would these very men be the first to condemn themselves, lamenting openly such lamentable outbursts of passion. Is it not evident that the habit of governing temper ought to be cultivated? Parents should train their offspring to this. But they may not hope to succeed unless example be accompanied by precept. Passionate inflictions, which provoke children to wrath, will only increase the evil. On the other hand, an unchastened child will grow up to be ungoverned. To check the hasty word even about small matters should be my aim: to make no allowance for temperament in my own case my rule. Higher motives will have sway with me as a Christian. But let me not lose sight of this lower one, that for every indulged temper I “shall suffer.”

July 2nd

There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.”—19:21 (16:1, 9; 21:30).

Interpretation.—Stress is here laid on the many devices in a man’s heart as contrasted with the oneness of God’s counsel. Man’s purposes and plans are variable and vacillating; “but” God’s counsel is at unity in itself, righteous, unchanging, and sure. Jehovah asserts the same of Himself (Isa. 14:24; 43:13), and Job of Him (ch. 23:13).

Illustrations.—Two striking illustrations occur in the histories of Joseph and of the Israelites. In the first, how remarkably were the devices of the envious brethren overruled and God’s counsel made to stand! They thought to defeat their younger brother’s dreams. Not only were these brought to pass by means of their cruel act towards him, but God’s purpose to preserve them a posterity in the earth was thereby effected (Gen. 45:7). Pharaoh’s wicked device to eradicate the thriving colony of Israel was a failure, from being allowed full play. As an attempt permanently to violate the instincts of our common nature, it could not but fail, and through its failure the designs of Providence touching the chosen seed were brought to pass. Still more strikingly in the events of our Lord’s crucifixion was man’s purpose overruled to fulfil prophecy, and to proclaim the crucified One both Priest and Sacrifice and King (John 11:50; 19:19, etc.), all being done “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).

Application.—It were well to remember the axiom here laid down for personal and for general application. It should teach me to submit all my thoughts and plans to God, and to pray that I may be willing for them to be carried out or not, as seemeth best to His Godly wisdom. Could I really believe that all my petty schemes are not only known to Him, but that their failure or success enters into His great plan, surely I should be willing to leave all (as it must be left) in His hands. In so doing, how much of impatience and disappointment should I be spared! Nor need I feel myself reduced to a nonentity. No, for man’s free agency and God’s supreme control are both necessities in the moral government of the world. Destroy the first, and while Providence disappears, the leaden creed of fate comes in its stead, Let the other be ignored, and the reign of atheism supplanting faith begins. So, also, in regard to public matters, such (e.g.) as affect Church and State. Why not find comfort in the reflection that behind all human devices for good or evil God is steadily working out His own counsel for good, interweaving or frustrating the schemes of man as seemeth best, and laughing to scorn the enemies who think to outwit not only all mankind but God Himself?

July 3rd

Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.”—19:27.

Interpretation.—Omitting the words “that causeth” (not in the original), some take this “counsel” to be ironical. As though “the wise king” were saying to those who heard but observed not his words—“Cease to learn wisdom, at least if you only learn it in order afterwards to misuse it.” Taken in this sense, we have here a warning against heightening one’s own condemnation by hearing and doing not (Luke 12:47). But, perhaps, the more natural sense, as expressed in our version, accords best with the context. According to this, it is a warning to one in danger of being misled to desist at once from even allowing himself to hear the teaching that leads to error, to departure from the precepts of virtue and religion.

Illustrations.—It was to Rehoboam these words were first addressed; his after-course proved both their need and his folly in neglecting them. Would not Eve have done wisely (and, oh, what consequences would have been averted!) had she ceased at the outset to listen to the “cunning craftiness” of the tempter? The Galatian converts did give heed to false teachers, unhappily, who seduced them into erroneous doctrines. Dionysius and Damaris and a few others had the wisdom to come out from the Epicureans and Stoics, renouncing that sensual creed, “Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die” (Acts 17:34; 1 Cor. 15:32).

Application.—The advice here given is specially adapted to the young. When launched upon the world, they are likely to meet with those who will endeavor, from various motives, to seduce them from the good and the right way. Their most dangerous teachers will be those who will not at first openly scoff at holy things and advocate licentiousness. A shock such as this would impart might too probably call up the force of resistance. No, but they will advocate more freedom of thought and independence of action. They will drop a jest at father’s and mother’s old-fashioned ideas, and a sly insinuation that childish tales (the holy lessons of early years) should be discarded by those who have become men. For reasoning minds they will produce the difficulties, contradictions, incongruities attaching to religion, and many a plausible argument chiming in with natural inclination. Their sophistries (like the first lie) will germinate. And if not broken away from at once, perilous will be the state of him who continues to hear them. The principle of action first corrupted, that of belief will soon follow. “A good conscience put away,” then ensues “shipwreck of faith” (1 Tim. 1:19). He who begins in evil ends in infidelity.

Oh to take heed, then, what I hear (Matt. 4:24), and dread instruction which tends to destruction!

July 4th

Judgments are prepared for scorners, and stripes for the back of fools.”—19:29 (10:13; 26:3).

Interpretation.—“Judgments” are condign punishments which proceed from God either directly or by human instruments of His appointment. “Scorners,” such as “an ungodly witness” (ver. 28), may “scorn judgment,” but, for all that, judgment shall be their portion. “Fools” are disciples of scorners, not equally bold and defiant, but foolishly so. They shall be punished, for their own correction, with many or few stripes, as God sees fit. “The fool’s mouth calleth for strokes” (18:6), and at the hand of God or man he shall receive them—for his good, if he learn wisdom thereby.

Illustrations.—For Jehoiakim, an audacious scorner, a special judgment was prepared, while to the roll he had dared to burn were added “many like words” affecting other scorners besides himself (Jer. 36:30–32). Rehoboam was emphatically “a fool,” and had to smart for his folly. Manasseh repented not till taken “among the thorns, and bound with fetters and carried to Babylon” (2 Chron. 33:11, etc.). Among the early Christians were communicants who needed to be “chastened of the Lord,” that they and others might learn to eat the Lord’s Supper worthily, “discerning the Lord’s Body” (1 Cor. 11:32).

Application.—The habit of mind of the scorner is clearly very evil in God’s eyes. Indeed, it would seem usually to betoken a state of heart which is hopelessly corrupt. It is at the root of the one sin spoken of in the Bible as being unpardonable. For what but scorn of goodness itself would have led the Pharisees to impute our Lord’s good works rather to the evil than to the good Spirit? Now, while that state of mind lasted, no evidence could convince and no appeal from Heaven touch them. They were shut up in unbelief, and hence their pardon was impossible (Mark 3:28–30). They must die in their sins (John 8:24). Therefore judgments are prepared for scorners; and can I too seriously lay this truth to heart? For what is the besetting sin of the age but this—to scoff at revealed truth, discredit the supernatural, revolt from creeds, and either dispense with Christianity altogether as effete, or reduce it to a bare utilitarian system of human moulding? But the state of mind of the scorer is not at once arrived at. Most commonly it is contracted by evil association. Men stand in the way of sinners for a time ere they sit in the seat of the scornful (Ps. 1:1). And even then God chastens them as a father his foolish son, if haply they may escape the scorner’s fate.

Oh, for correcting stripes now, rather than judgments hereafter, at His Hand!

July 5th

The desire of a man is his kindness: and a poor man is better than a liar.”—19:22.

Interpretation.—The contrast is here indicated, somewhat obscurely. There is the poor man, whose hearty good-will and desire to benefit others is all the kindness it is in his power to show. But by this, he will prove himself better than the rich man who raises expectations which he afterwards, under false excuses, disappoints. The word here rendered “desire,” may be translated “ornament.”

Illustrations.—The little Israelitish maid, though unable of herself to do anything for her master Naaman, showed her kindness of heart by that earnest desire for his recovery which resulted in good to his health both of soul and body (2 Kings 5:3, etc.). David’s desire to build a Temple for Jehovah was accepted as a good desire, though not to be carried out by him (2 Chron. 6:8). Jesus commended the widow’s mite, the box of ointment, the cup of cold water, as tokens of kindness and good-will on the part of those who did what they could, and an ornament to their character.

Application.—“God looketh at the heart.” With Him the desire of a man is accounted and will be rewarded as kindness where more was out of his power. We cannot see the heart as God sees it, but we may imitate Him in appreciating “a willing mind,” and accepting “according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not” (2 Cor. 8:12). It is one of the compensations a poor man has, to be valued more for his affections than his presents. And kindness is a virtue which admits of being measured by its desires, as well as by its ability. How often have I not felt warmed to gratitude by a small service rendered or only a hearty good wish uttered by a poor friend who had no power to give me more! Whereas, a far greater benefit conferred by a wealthier person in an ungracious way has moved me much less. But what shall we say of rich people who, having it in their power to do many a kind and generous act, either escape from that duty under the shelter of lame or untrue excuses, or make fine promises without any intention of keeping them? Holy Scripture, which is very plain-spoken and not tainted with the prevailing adulation of wealth, calls such a rich man “a liar.” Be it far from me to deserve such a title! If able to do kindnesses, may I do them with a hearty good-will; or, if obliged to refuse, give no hypocritical excuse, still less hold out fictitious hopes! If too poor to do much, still let me be kind and true of heart, and ever remember that a good motive ennobles an insignificant action.

July 6th

The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion: whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul.”—20:2 (19:12; 16:14).

Interpretation.—By “the fear of a king” is meant that which in a king causes fear, e.g. his terrible word of judgment. This, like “the roaring of a (young) lion,” strikes terror into the heart of the hearer, inasmuch as it precedes execution. To provoke such judgment is to sin against one’s own life (Hab. 2:10), which (under an absolute monarchy) is thereby placed in extreme jeopardy.

Illustrations.—In Saul’s fierce rejoinder to Ahimelech (1 Sam. 22:16), in David’s sentence upon the Amalekite (2 Sam. 1:15), in Solomon’s reproachful condemnation of Shimei (1 Kings 2:44, etc.), in the wrathful outbreak against Haman on the part of Ahasuerus (Esth. 7:8), we hear the roar of a lion about to seize his prey. The consternation of Israel at the trumpet-toned voice from Sinai (Heb. 12:19), of Job at the voice of thunder answering him out of the whirlwind (ch. 38:1; 40:2) of Belshazzar and his court at the sentence which flashed from heaven, we have intimations of the horror to seize upon the wicked when, in the day of wrath, they shall discover that to provoke the King of kings to anger was to sin against their own souls (Rev. 6:15–17).

Application.—With Solomon, at one time the greatest of Eastern kings, absolute power enters into the ideal of a king. He was, however, quite alive to its responsibilities, and would have impressed therewith his son. Such power is too great for man to wield, and we may rejoice that autocrats are in these days comparatively rare. It is, however, a divine ordinance that there should be power upon earth to bear the sword and not in vain for wrath upon him that doeth evil (Rom. 13:4). For laws without punitive sanction deserve not the name, as they have not the power, of laws. The Government under which I live is the power I am bound to obey in all things not contrary to the declared will of God. And to insult or oppose that Government, subject to the above limitation, so as to provoke its judicial indignation, must needs be the height of folly. It is as though I were to shake my fist in the face of a young lion roaring in search of prey. What can I expect but condign punishment, and to learn, by bitter experience, that I have sinned against my own “life,” ay, against my own “soul”? For a Christian should be, above all men, an observer of his country’s laws. And, if so, how much more of His laws Who hath the voice of a lion (Rev. 10:3) now to make men fear (Amos. 3:8) that they may obey, hereafter to overwhelm with terror the disobedient (Rev. 6:17)!

July 7th

It is an honor for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.”—20:3 (17:14; 18:1; 19:11).

Interpretation.—To “a man,” a reasonable being, it is an honor to “cease” or keep aloof from strife; unlike the “fool,” who imagines it a gain to his honor to be “mingling with” or “rushing forward into” other men’s affairs, so as to provoke and also to foment quarrels. But the wise in heart has learned that it is truest “glory to pass over a transgression” (19:11).

Illustrations.—Abraham and Isaac, the one towards the Philistines, the other towards Lot and his company, both quitted themselves like men; and what honor God put upon them (Gen. 13:8; 28:22)! Jeremiah wisely and with true dignity “went his way,” instead of contending with the false prophet Hananiah, and the Lord vindicated his honor (Jer. 28:11, etc.). But Miriam, how unfavorably she contrasts with Moses, the meddler with the man of peace! What mischief, by provoking unprofitable controversy and alienating the converts from their spiritual father, was done by the Judaizers at Antioch, and the party opposed to St. Paul in the Galatian Church”!

Application.—Men often deem it wise to engage in a quarrel, and, having done so, make it a point of honor not to withdraw till they have gained their cause, or at all events had the last word. But is this the wisdom that is from above? Is that the honor that cometh from God only? A little consideration would decide the question to my own reason as Holy Scripture decides it for my faith. For after all is said and done, what does a quarrel leave behind it but soreness and vexation, it may be disappointment and loss, certainly damage to the spiritual life? And as to honor, who does not know that even the world itself admires and esteems the man who can pass over a transgression or cease from strife, far more than him who pursues his quarrel (however just) to the bitter end? Surely, too, it is an honor to have the control of one’s passions; to be able to keep the ear candidly open to reason; to yield to truth when convinced; to be the last to begin, the first to give up, a dispute. All this betokens self-government, patience, ingenuousness, love,—qualities which ennoble human nature and adorn the Christian. Whereas, that meddling spirit and passionate love of contention which seeks fuel in other people’s affairs as not content with its own, what does it betray? A fool so conceited that he can bear no contradiction; so impertinent as to obtrude his opinion upon others; too proud to allow that he is in the wrong; and stubborn enough to snatch the last word at any cost.

July 8th

The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold: therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing.”—20:4.

Interpretation.—Ploughing-time in the East is during the earlier part of the winter, when the wind commonly blows from the north, but frosts are never severe. A slothful man is here represented as excusing himself from the proper work, not of a day only, but of a season, and neglecting to plough his ground “by reason of the cold.” Consequently, when harvest-time comes, there is no harvest for him, and he is compelled to beg food of others (who, having sown, have also reaped), and in the midst of plenty to have nothing, being refused on every side with scorn. The proverb finds a deeper verification in the sowing harvest times of the soul.

Illustrations.—Of the loss of opportunity through imaginary or exaggerated fears, the case of the Israelites shrinking back from the invasion of Canaan on the mere report of the spies is an example, “written for our admonition.” What they would not attempt when they might they were not permitted to achieve when they would (Numb. 13:26, etc., 14:1–5, 40–45). The slothful servant (in the parable), whose pretended dread of his master’s austerity was his plea for not sowing his money (so to speak) to the end that it might yield an increase, found out to his cost that he had done very foolishly, when of the harvest reaped by his diligent fellow-servants, no portion came to him, but even that which he seemed to have (“seemed,” for it had been given him only in trust) was taken away. Among those who shall have their portion in the “lake, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8), the first-named are “the fearful,” those craven-spirited ones who have shrunk from conflict and toil and self-denial for their souls’ and their Master’s sake.

Application.—No one can question the accuracy of the picture here drawn as far as this present life is concerned. No one complains of the retribution which follows inevitably upon slothful waste of opportunity. It is felt that thus it must be and ought to be. And the certainty of it is doubtless an incentive to the many to toil unremittingly for their daily bread. Would that the many were equally alive to its bearing upon the soul! Then, they would not be found excusing themselves from Christ’s service in early life—the sowing-time for eternity—and that, on the ground of its being too early! The privilege of communion with God (specially at His altar) would not be deferred “by reason of the cold,” but be the first act of the day. And so, through life, duty with its hardships and its hopes would always come before the hopeless joys of self-indulgence.

July 9th

Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.”—20:5 (18:4).

Interpretation.—In the recesses of most men’s minds are schemes, or thoughts, or purposes; of some men’s knowledge and experience; which are not readily brought to light. They are like deep water at the bottom of a well, which must be drawn up in a bucket with pains and skill. The man who has the gift of insight into character, the man who can put pertinent and telling questions, the man who is bold and undaunted in his inquisitiveness, he will succeed in eliciting what he wants to find out, and every question he puts will be (as it were) a turning of the windlass, a drawing out of the depths.

Illustrations.—The “deep waters” of a man’s heart are not easily fathomed. “Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). Thus David was duped by the fair promises of Saul (1 Sam. 18:17–26), and also by the hypocritical professions of Absalom (2 Sam. 15:7–9). Darius was blind to the plot concocted against Daniel by his enemies. The counsel of Herod misled the Magi as to his real purpose. But David, made wiser than his enemies, by God’s grace often penetrated their designs (Ps. 119:98). St. Paul detected, under a plausible profession, the selfish object of the schismatical preachers of his day (Phil. 1:15). The Queen of Sheba so well knew how to put her questions as to draw up from the depths of Solomon’s wisdom and learning all she had it in her heart to ask.

Application.—This little parable sets forth an undoubted truth. The question for me is under what circumstances I should act the part here attributed to “a man of understanding. Clearly, it is not my place to make a practice of trying to dive into men’s characters and to extract their secrets. Nor may I without just reproach constitute myself a questioner of great and wise men, unless for my own or others’ good, and then with great modesty. But I might be placed in circumstances where detection of motive, intuition of character, extraction of knowledge, would advance some righteous cause; so that it is a duty to cultivate the habit of having all my wits about me. And who can doubt that it is wise and right, when thrown into the company of men of deep thought and high cultivation, men who are reserved in proportion as they are worth knowing, to exercise ingenuity, tact, and perseverance in drawing out their hidden stores? Specially let me do this as a disciple of one of Christ’s ministers; and, above all, let me question Him, yea, more than His Apostles did, to whom, when they did question, mysteries were revealed, which to others were left wrapped up in parables (Mark 4:11).

July 10th

Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man, who can find?”—20:6.

Interpretation.—There are other renderings of this proverb, but our English version is the best. By “goodness” or “mercy” is to be understood bounty, beneficence. Men in general are fond of proclaiming or in some way making known whatever good deeds of this nature they are to be credited with. Were the half of these vauntings true, friends to be relied on in any time of need would abound. As it is, these are so rare that the question may well be asked, “A faithful man”—one who keeps to his promises, and acts up to his professions—“who can find?”

Illustrations.—Absalom, by loud professions of his own benevolent concern for their interests, “stole the hearts of the people” (2 Sam. 15:2–6), while proving himself an unfaithful subject and son. The Pharisees, who ostentatiously prayed and gave alms, had no real consideration for the poor, nor even common honesty (Matt. 9:36; 23:14). Even in the presence of God, one of them (a type of the rest) is represented by our Lord as proclaiming his own goodness, while at the same time looking down with profoundest contempt upon a brother.

Application.—There is a tendency in man to overestimate his own worth, and to desire that others should do so. Now, a work of mercy, an act of charity, unless done from the best motive, is very apt to inflate the breast with a sense of goodness. And as such acts beyond any others call forth admiration and praise, the temptation to make them known is too often overpowering. This may be done broadly and openly, as it were, “on the housetop,” or in less ingenuous but still more effective ways. Let me not, as a wise man, place confidence in those who, whether directly or indirectly, proclaim their own beneficence. It would often be found that, for one act of generosity, there were many more acts of meanness. Nay, not unfrequently that the alms itself was the fruit of fraud or of avarice. Such boasters will put a pound against their names on the subscription list “to be known of men,” and a penny under the hand into the alms-bag. And, when suddenly called upon to aid privately in a case of real distress, how averse to the duty, perhaps the personal obligation, will they prove! Let me believe God’s Word that faithful men are rare, and prize them when found in proportion to their rarity. And—

Oh, let it be my aim to be genuinely true and faithful, both to God and my neighbour; and never to forget that, in proportion as I seek the praise of men, I forfeit the praise of God!

July 11th

The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.”—20:7 (13:22).

Interpretation.—The allusion is again to that rare character, “the faithful man,” who is just and true to God and his neighbor (ver. 6). The special reward promised him, and partly flowing out of his own virtues, is, that “his children are blessed after him”—not only when he is gone, but even in his lifetime. The proverb embraces all sincere and upright men who “abhor evil, and cleave to that which is good,” who walk with God, and endeavor to have a conscience void of offence toward Him and toward men.

Illustrations.—Abraham, accepted with God, and walking before Him in his integrity, had this precious blessing upon his seed pronounced by God’s own lips, “I will be their God” (Gen. 17:1–8). Ephraim and Manasseh were blessed in the person of their father Joseph and for his sake (Gen. 48:15, 16, 20). Upon Zacchæus renouncing dishonesty, and setting out to walk in his integrity, came the blessing promised here from the lips of Him who had called him, “This day is salvation come to this house.”

Application.—The man who is justified is also “just”—“just” towards men and “devout” towards God, like the holy Simeon. This is the fruit of sin forgiven, absolution secured, peace in the heart. “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” cries the accepted one in his grateful joy; and the answer comes prompt and clear from Heaven, “Walk before Me, and be thou perfect” (“upright”—Gen. 17:1, marg.). Yes, the substance of this rule for the patriarch of the Old Testament is quite as much for every believer in Christ. And none has good reason to believe in his justification through faith in and union with the God-man, who is not just and sincere in his dealings towards his fellow-men. It is the privilege of the saint to walk with God, as well as before Him. But he who thus walks must needs walk in his integrity, for God is just and true, and “can two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Hence, a dishonest, unjust, insincere Christian is an impossibility. Now, God has by way of a spur and also a rein for parents, made their children’s happiness and prosperity to depend largely upon them, their example, their bringing up, the friends and connections they form. Even a just man who is not a true Christian will bequeath many advantages to his offspring. How much more he who not only has commended himself to men, but to God also by his holy walk and conversation! He will bequeath them, along with an inheritance of good principles and valuable friends, such a share in God’s covenant blessings as is promised to the seed of the righteous. (Ps. 103:17).

July 12th

Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?”—20:9.

Interpretation.—To cleanse the heart is to empty it, by self-examination and earnest efforts after holiness, of all impure motives and inclinations. This is what Asaph means, speaking in a limited and comparative sense (Ps. 73:13). He who has done this has attained to moral perfection. But (the wise king asks) is there any one upon earth of whom this is true? And he answered his own question (which, indeed, implies an unqualified negative) in his prayer at the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8:46). The point here raised does not concern justification, but sanctification; and our text denies the doctrine of perfectibility as being inapplicable to this state of existence.

Illustrations.—So said not Job (ch. 42:5, 6), nor Isaiah (ch. 6:5), nor St. Peter (Luke 5:8), when they felt the nearness of the Holy One. So thought not Paul, that eminently distinguished saint, after long following Christ, but rather, that he must still “press forward” (Phil. 3:12–14). So taught not that Apostle, but, on the contrary, that there is “none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). The one instance given us in the Bible of a man professing to be pure from sin—to have kept the commandments—is that of the young ruler who went away from Jesus convicted of sin. St. John, anticipating such self-delusion, wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

Application.—It is indeed true that, even in the regenerate, the infection of a corrupt nature doth remain (Art. IX.). Nor is this entirely got rid of in the present life. No perfect man since the days of Adam’s innocence, except “the Man Christ Jesus,” has ever been seen upon earth. We may indeed hope that in the more immediate presence of the Savior—in that intermediate state which to the true Christian will be “far better” than this state (Phil. 1:23),—the heart, freed from defiling contact with the world and the flesh, will become so pure as to reflect “God.” Till then, the confession of the holiest must be, “Woe is me, for I am unclean!” True, sin no longer reigns in the justified. True, cleansing of the heart is continually going on through application of the Blood and Spirit of Jesus. I become in very deed “a new creature” by abiding in Christ. But that very fact keeps me humble. Boasting is excluded, for what have I that I have not received? Harsh judgments of others become impossible, for conscience would reply, “Thou, too, art not pure.” To the mind growing in holiness little sins appear great, and sin in particular as well as in general is confessed.

July 13th

Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the Lord.”—20:10 and 23 (11:1; 16:11).

Interpretation.—“Stone and stone, ephah and ephah,” the first for money, the second for goods. The allusion is to a system of cheating, by which one stone under weight might be substituted for another of full weight, and the same with the ephah. Or, to a custom too prevalent, of buying by a weight or measure of at least full size, to sell by others under size. Such fraud, whether in weighing money or goods, in whatever way carried out, must be equally abomination to Jehovah, Who demands just and equal measure, scrupulous honesty, of all men.

Illustrations.—This proverb is an echo of several Old Testament laws, which seem to have been evaded in an age of luxury (Lev. 19:36; Deut. 25:13–16). Later on, dishonest practices in trade became a crying sin of the nation, and were denounced by the prophets (Hos. 12:7; Amos 8:4, 5; Mic. 6:10, 11). At our Lord’s cleanings of the Temple, it had been made “a den of thieves” by dishonesty of the money-changers, whose tables He overthrew, and doubtless of other dealers. The early Christian converts, whether from Judaism or heathenism, had to be warned frequently against that lying one to another, which constitutes the essence of cheating.

Application.—We find this proverb repeated and others of a like nature. Had Solomon lived in these days, would he have felt it less needful to utter caution upon caution against fraudulent dealings in trade? Christianity, owning as its Founder Him who is “The Truth,” sets its face against all unfaithfulness in what is least as well as greatest. Yet are Christians baptized into this faith more honest than the Jews of old? Alas! is it not too true that our commercial men as a body have adopted as the proverb of business, “All is fair in trade”? That the same man who is honorable in private life, will have a lower standard of morality in his business relations? That swindling has been elevated almost to the dignity of a science? That unlawful profits are so universally the rule as almost to preclude competition on the part of those who abjure them? Yet God remaineth true, though every man become a liar. And He has declared all false and double dealing to be an abomination in His eyes. He will not give lasting prosperity to a business conducted on such non-principles. He will not bless its profits. “The cheat will find out,” as said Latimer, “that he has cozened his own conscience—yea, to his cost, when he comes to examine the balance-sheet of his life.”

O God, make and keep me true, that I not only speak no lie, but neither act nor imply one!

July 14th

Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.”—20:11.

Interpretation.—The general meaning of this proverb is plain. “Even a child is known by his conversation, or manner of conducting himself, whether his work be clear and right,” or whether unclean and evil. In other words, “the child is father of the man;” his earliest acts are prophecies of his future; what he discloses as his bent and disposition, he will probably follow more or less through life.

Illustrations.—Very early did Ishmael betray that mocking spirit which led to his being ejected from Abraham’s household, and made him a type of future persecutors (Gal. 4:29). In Samuel, as a child, were discerned not only a piety beyond his years, but a heavenly wisdom which stamped him as one chosen to be a prophet of the Lord (1 Sam. 3:19). Abijah, the son of Jeroboam, was but “a child,” yet “even in him was found some good thing towards the Lord God of Israel,” (1 Kings 14:13). Whereas, Jehoiachin, who came to the throne at eight years of age, and only reigned three months and ten days, did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, and was accordingly soon removed (2 Chron. 36:9, 10). There were “little children” in St. John’s day—children in age as distinguished from “young men” and “fathers”—to whom the Apostle could write as to Christians indeed (1 John 2:12, 13).

Application.—There is a lesson here for parents and for children both. For parents, that they take pains to find out their little ones’ dispositions, with a view to their future training. It is not enough to detect the turn for this or the unfitness for that avocation in life, which may discover themselves very early. Far more important to note what graces or faults are prominent, that so encouragement or repression may be applied judiciously. Children in general show their true nature openly, not having acquired, like grown people, the art of dissembling. And, often, incipient faults may be cured and budding virtues assisted when taken in hand in time. But parents should be on their guard against treating indications, whether of good or evil, as trifles not worthy of consideration in the case of a child. Let them not act as though the evil were exotic and the good indigenous, the first having slight hold of the soil and sure to wither, the other firmly rooted and sure to thrive. Both the evil and the good are indications of treatment required—not the same for all—upon which the child’s future for weal or for woe may depend. What need, then, for parents to seek the wisdom that is from above! What need for children to remember that as soon as they know good from evil they become accountable for their choice of the one or the other unto God!

July 15th

The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made even both of them.”—20:12.

Interpretation.—The wise man asserts a truth too much forgotten by many, denied even by some, that “the ear that hears and the eyes that see” were not only constructed for the purpose, but fulfil their functions by the power and goodness of God. From a spiritual point of view, the power to see or understand and to hear or obey revealed truth, is also of God. The proverb may, perhaps, look backward with a warning glance at the cheat and also at the child who have been just before mentioned (vv. 10, 11).

Illustrations.—God Himself appeals to the eye and ear as two witnesses to His omniscience (Ps. 94:9). He makes men own that they see and hear not by those organs alone, but by His care, when He withdraws for a time or altogether the use of one or both senses, whether judicially as in the cases of the Syrian army and of Elymas the sorcerer (2 Kings 6:18; Acts 13:11), or, as more frequently happens, by natural causes. The gift of spiritual sight and hearing is His also (as Lydia and all true converts would thankfully acknowledge), and it is His to inflict spiritual blindness and deafness, making the ears heavy and shutting the eyes, as in the case of the Jews of our blessed Lord’s time (Isa. 6:10; John 12:39, 40).

Application.—How good of God to have given us these two gateways of knowledge, that the soul might not sit darkling within her house of clay! But alas! in a sinful world, they are portals also through which temptations find their way to the mind and heart. I can only make them real blessings by remembering that they are “bought with a price,” and by consecrating them to Him who bought them. Let them be voluntarily opened to such things only as may be thought upon innocently. And, oh, may even an imperfect knowledge of their marvelous structure confirm that faith in God which a more intimate acquaintance with them has ere now compelled! The time will come, if I live to old age, perhaps sooner, when my eyes will probably grow dim and mine ears dull. Let me, then, use those senses now as not abusing them. Yea, let me use them (while I have eyes to see and ears to hear) so that they may be “blessed” in the using as those of Zacchæus and others in Christ’s day (Matt. 13:16; Luke 19:3). Above all—

God give me now the spiritual power to “hear that (my) soul may live” and so to “behold the Lamb of God,” that when every eye shall see Him, and all that are in their graves shall hear His voice, I may behold the King in His beauty, and drink in His words of love!

July 16th

Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty: open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread.”—20:13 (6:9–11).

Interpretation.—We are here exhorted to use the faculties God has given us, to which reference has been made (ver. 12), to aim at being wide awake. The reward of wakefulness, both in matters temporal and spiritual, is satisfaction; while drowsiness, which a love of sleep begets, entails poverty and that of the worst kind.

Illustrations.—“Abundance of idleness” helped to bring the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah to ruin. Laziness leaves no mark in history; therefore instances of it in individuals are hardly to be looked for in Holy Scripture. The case of Ishbosheth, slain upon his bed at noon, may be typically a warning (2 Sam. 4:5). And our Lord, in the parables of the virgins and of the talents, gives us plainly to understand that drowsiness and sloth in spiritual duties will surely involve risk and loss. Whereas, to “watch,” to “strive,” to be “not slothful in business,” this is required of Christians. And it is a very ancient law of the Church “that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10).

Application.—The repetition of “counsels” on this subject proves its importance. The term “wide awake,” as applied generally, is significant of a condition of faculties and habits which usually proves favorable to success in any worldly calling. At the least, it secures for a man a sufficiency, which he may very well fail of or lose if of a somnolent or dreamy habit. For labor is the tenure of God’s gifts to man. Heaven sends no prizes to the lazy and indifferent. God works no miracles in behalf of drones. It is my duty to use and improve to the utmost the bodily senses and the powers of mind which God has given me. Hence, I must not love sleep for its own sake, or indulge in it immoderately, but only enjoy it thankfully as “tired nature’s sweet restorer.” It ought never to interfere with duty, but be always subordinate to it, and specially the duty of prayer and of receiving the Holy Eucharist. Let me rise up to God on the wings of the morning. Thus shall I go forth to work and to labor with the dew of God’s blessing on my soul. Work (even common labor) becomes worship when done to His glory, honestly and well. And life is a short day, but a working day. Strange that the man who wishes for a long life should so often willfully abridge life by needless slumbers! I must labor for “the meat that perisheth.” How much more for “that which endureth,” and wherewith alone “I shall be satisfied”!

July 17th

It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.”—20:14.

Interpretation.—We have here a glimpse given us into an Eastern market. “Naught” signifies “bad” (2 Kings 2:19), and the word is repeated to give emphasis to the buyer’s opinion, which, however, is not his real one. He only decries the article that he may get its price lowered. Having done this, he goes away chuckling over his bargain and laughing at the other’s simplicity. The wise king draws this picture of an overreaching purchaser (an offset to that of the fraudulent seller, ver. 10), and leaves us to look upon it and form a judgment.

Illustrations.—The case is not met by any Scriptural narrative, though of the bad principle indicated there are examples. What a pitiful cheat was Laban, grasping at the faithful and zealous services of his son-in-law, and yet, as though he undervalued them, defrauding him of his just recompense (Gen. 31:38–42)! Gehazi also is a specimen of an audacious trickster imposing upon the good nature of Naaman, while doubtless laughing at him in his sleeve. But the transaction between Abraham and Ephron, when we make all allowance for Oriental compliments, displays on both sides—on the buyer’s side particularly—a straightforwardness and nobility of principle the very opposite of the mean cunning described in our text.

Application.—“It is (we may assume) in every one’s heart to wish to buy cheap and sell dear.” “All seek their own.” But the whole teaching of Christianity, as well as its golden rule, is opposed to selfishness and chicanery. The expulsive power of a new affection, even the love of Christ, drives out that inordinate love of money which leads to conventional fraud. True, the deceptions practiced by sellers tend to reprisals of overreaching on the buyer’s part, but they do not excuse them. To say what we don’t think, with an object in view, is, in plain language, to lie. To boast of having gained by a lie is to glory in our shame. Could such a boaster but see it, he would find most commonly that the dealer, one degree more cunning, had circumvented him. Thus fraud begets fraud. But truth begets honesty, and that, trust. Let both parties become imbued with loving loyalty to one rightful king, even to Jesus; their rivalry will be to please Him most. Those who are under law to Christ will never try to overreach a neighbor. We owe a duty also to our country. For the nation’s trade is the nation’s honor; but conventional dishonesty is a disgrace to any people. The same principle will apply to things both small and great. The gain may be trifling, yet the sin is vast. Eternal loss will be the fruit of wrongful gain.

July 18th

Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.”—20:17.

Interpretation.—“Bread of deceit,” like “wine of violence” (4:17), is that gotten by deceit. It may be as the means of livelihood, or as (9:17) some unlawful indulgence. There is an unhallowed pleasure at the time in the thought of labor saved and successful cleverness; but what is the after-experience? Sweetness “hidden under the tongue” (Job 15:12) is exchanged for dissatisfaction and disgust. A stone is an Eastern metaphor for disappointed expectation (Luke 11:11). To “eat gravel” is a phrase for getting into trouble—for incurring God’s displeasure (Lam. 3:16). This will be the fruit of deceit in the long run, however prosperous for a while.

Illustrations.—Was it not so with Jacob, whose clever fraud practiced upon his aged and blind father did indeed succeed in its object, but entailed upon its perpetrator a sore retribution for years to come? Joseph’s brethren—-did they wickedly rejoice at the craft which had, as they thought, got rid of a hated brother forever? But years “afterwards,” with what shame and terror did the memory of that crime overwhelm them! So, too, did David’s subtlety in the matter of Uriah and Bathsheba cause him bitterness and anguish “afterwards,” far exceeding the pleasure of successful sin.

Application.—“What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?” (Rom. 6:21). The Apostle’s question admits but of one answer. All, sooner or later, confess, “sweetness in the mouth, but bitterness ere long in the depths of our being” (Rev. 10:9). “I did but taste a little honey,” cried Jonathan, “and I must die” (1 Sam. 14:43). How often has that word “but a little” been the deceiving of souls to their death! Was it property acquired by craft or in some dishonest speculation? It yielded no true happiness, for a curse was upon it. Or was it some base appetite indulged—perhaps by deceiving a soul into ruin? Disappointment, shame, remorse, if not immediately succeeding, yet following after, have made me curse the day on which that sin was conceived. Ah! shall I not remember that cunning is the fool’s substitute for wisdom; that the deceiver is often ruined by deceit; and that whatever the present advantage proffered by the tempter, its price is the soul to be claimed in the dying hour? Let me contemplate pleasure, not as it approaches, but as it departs. It is said that some nations have punished malefactors by mixing gravel with their bread;—a speaking type, if true, of the way God often punishes sin in this world. But after death unmitigated disappointment will be the fruit of sin unpardoned. The mouth will be “filled with gravel.”

July 19th

Every purpose is established by counsel: and with good advice make war.”—20:18 (15:22; 24:6)

Interpretation.—By the word here used for “purpose,” contrivances or devices are meant. These, whether national or individual, are best brought about by taking counsel with others. In the term “good advice,” we find again the maritime metaphor “pilotings,” before remarked upon (vol. i., p. 97). Clearly, no encouragement to “make war” is intended; rather, the reverse. As though he should say, “Never make war hastily; but if it must be made, let it be made with all the deliberation and foresight possible.”

Illustrations.—David wisely took counsel of the Lord before going up against the Philistines, and he smote them (2 Sam. 5:17–23). But godly Josiah, neglecting this precaution, and even flying in the face of warning, was chastised (2 Chron. 35:22). Ahab, who yielded to the bad advice of flattering counsellors, and resented the honest warning of a true prophet, fell a victim to his own folly. Against the princes of Judah in Isaiah’s time, a war was pronounced and executed, because they took counsel, but not of God (Isa. 30:1, etc.). Whereas, Nehemiah, combining with his brethren, and making request continually unto God, found all his patriotic purposes established.

Application.—However wise and experienced a man may be, he is liable to err, and will therefore show his wisdom by hearing the opinions of those competent to advise, for by many counsellors the more is likely to be foreseen. This, true of every undertaking, is so specially of such an undertaking as war. Hastily entered upon and prosecuted without good advice, how wanton and terrible have been its results, as the history of every age records! Christianity is gradually teaching the nations that own her sway to hesitate longer and deliberate more before drawing the sword. We know that when her influence shall be paramount, wars will cease (Isa. 2:4). Meantime, at least for self-defense and prevention of tyranny, there may be lawful wars in which good men may take part. That these may be as short and effective as possible, and with the least amount of bloodshed, anxious consultation should precede, and sage counsels control them. United prayers in church should be continually put up during a time of war. Before running the somewhat similar risk of going to law, it were also wise to count the cost well (Luke 14:31), and to take good advice (25:8). So too as regards the spiritual war, which knows no intermission during life, wherein to yield is death, and all treaties of peace are fatal.

July 20th

Whoso curseth his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness.”—20:20 (13:9; 30:17).

Interpretation.—The awful sin here indicated—an extreme breach of the fifth commandment—merits a punishment the reverse of the promise made to such as honor their parents. The lamp put out may signify the extinction of life, or at least of all that brightens and embellishes and makes it worthy to be called life (Job 18:6), specially failure or deprivation of posterity (1 Kings 15:4). The impious son shall be cut off root and branch, after losing the parents—the sun and moon (Gen. 37:9, 10)—he has reviled. Obscure darkness, “the eye of night,” shall be his portion.

Illustrations.—The law, as quoted by Jesus, inflicted death as the punishment of this crime (Matt. 15:4). Through the tenderness of parents, the extreme sentence might not often be carried into effect. But to the unnatural son God has affixed His black mark. The case of Absalom is one in point. In the height of his popularity and ambition, he, who had doomed his own father to death, was suddenly cut off as one accursed, hanging upon a tree, and left no offspring (2 Sam. 18:14, 18). Hophni and Phinehas had previously furnished examples of gross undutifulness, followed by its threatened award.

Application.—It may seem that, except in drunkenness, the flagrant sin here alluded to can hardly occur often. For the sake of human nature one would indeed fain hope that to curse a parent to his or her face must, under any circumstances, be rare. And this is the sin in its extreme form condemned originally on Mount Ebal, as rehearsed in our own Commination Service. But if this be deemed worthy of death by the Divine Lawgiver, then every approximation to it must be at least an offence of deep moral dye. Now, of this we may be sure, that no one ever mounted to such a height of wickedness at a bound. There must have been many progressive steps, from the petulance and disobedience of childhood, from outbreaks of disrespect and sullenness and passion in youth, to the muttered curse or downright imprecation which has provoked the final sentence. We live in those “last days” of which disobedience to parents is among the signs (2 Tim. 3:2); and this is the first step towards still more flagrantly unfilial conduct. Young people should beware of adopting the slang phraseology in vogue about parents; of venting bitterness against them behind their backs; of omitting proper expressions of affection and respect; of neglecting to pray for them. Sad indeed it is when parents go the way to forfeit what is their due. But nothing can excuse a child from offering it. The filial principle is the moving spring of all true religion. And whoso discards it will find himself on an incline that tends to atheism.

July 21st

An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed.”—20:21.

Interpretation.—It is best to omit here the words “may be,” italicized in our version, and also the word “but.” Literally rendered, the proverb then stands thus: “An inheritance which maketh haste at the beginning its latter end shall not be blessed.” It may be compared to a racer who runs rapidly at the commencement of his course, but flags miserably at the end. The allusion is not to making money or a position, but to grasping at either with a view to its immediate acquisition, instead of coming at it by lawful means. Perhaps the case of a son anticipating his father’s death may be partly intended; thus connecting this proverb with the preceding. In any case, though the attempt may succeed, it shall not be blessed in the end.

Illustrations.—The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh were the first of all the tribes to obtain a possession, and the first also to be driven out of it (Numb. 32; 2 Kings 10:32). How many have grasped at crowns, only to forfeit them with their lives (1 Kings 16:8–22)! Was Naboth’s vineyard an inheritance which brought with it a blessing? Did the prodigal son do well for himself by his premature handling of the portion reserved for him in the future?

Application.—Undutiful sons who value their fathers only for their money are tempted to wish them dead in their hearts, and to speculate on their death. But the inheritance which is burdened with charges upon it, and still more with remorseful regrets, is it likely to be enjoyed? There are those (let me not be one) who cannot wait to rise to wealth and honor by gradual and legitimate means. They must begin where their fathers left off, and find themselves at once on the top step of the ladder instead of mounting by degrees. And in order to gratify this unhealthy ambition they will stoop to tricks, or essay audacities which, even if successful for the time, must needs lower them in their own and others’ eyes. What more contemptible, e.g., than to find young men legacy-hunting, or speculating with borrowed money, or laying themselves out for securing wealth by marriage, instead of setting to, like men, to achieve success in honest work! God will not bless this making haste to be rich by questionable ways and means, and to lack His blessing is failure. As a rule, He prospers those who serve an honest apprenticeship to an honest calling, and sometimes prospers them beyond all expectation.

Be it mine, then, to aim at doing my duty in my state of life, not outside it, that so I may inherit a blessing—that blessing of the Lord which maketh rich without adding sorrow (10:22)!

July 22nd

Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the Lord, and He shall save thee.”—20:22 (24:29).

Interpretation.—To “recompense evil” is to avenge the evil, a proceeding which has been equally forbidden to Jews and Christians. Thus, of St. Paul’s well-known exposition of the duty of forgiveness (Rom. 12:17–21), part is quoted from this Book (25:21, 22), and part from an earlier Book (Deut. 32:35)—an unanswerable proof that the doctrine of the law was the same as that of the gospel on this subject. There is no kind of an appeal to God for vengeance (though He announces Himself as the Avenger), but only for help and deliverance. The promise is not “Wait on the Lord, and He will avenge thee,” but, “He shall save thee.”

Illustrations.—Moses had learned this before, who interceded readily for Pharaoh, and bore himself so meekly under insults. David, in his reply to Shimei’s cursing, exemplified the patient and forbearing spirit of one who waits on the Lord for good to himself, not for vengeance upon his enemy (2 Sam. 16:11, 12). Jehovah enjoined this spirit when He forbade the Israelite to “abhor” either the Edomite or the Egyptian (Deut. 23:7), and commanded him to pray even for Babylon, the head-quarters of the Captivity (Jer. 28:7). But to Jesus above all we must look for our example in this respect, Who returned His bitter enemies good for evil, while He committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously (1 Pet. 2:23).

Application.—Clearly, it was not Moses who said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy.” Nor did the retributive sentences pronounced by the Mosaic law sanction private and personal revenge (Matt. 5:43, 38). But a corrupt generation had departed from that law of love which Jesus, the Lawgiver, found it necessary when on earth to re-enforce. And does not the heart still say, “Revenge is sweet”? And is it not hard, even for the Christian at times, to keep down the secret desire that his cause may be avenged? But let me remember that “he who studieth revenge keepeth his own wounds open.” And could his enemy do him a greater injury? Again, that “it costs more to revenge injuries than to bear them;” and that “forgiveness is the best revenge.” How good to lay to heart such golden aphorisms as the above! I need a deeper sense of God’s righteousness to be able to leave all things in His hands. I need to have pride eradicated from my heart, for pride is the root of revenge. I need to become possessed of true charity, for that will make it easy to forgive. Who that loves souls will desire judgment to be executed upon a fellow-sinner? Rather my prayer will be, so often as I think of an enemy—

Lord, grant him conversion, and that forgiveness which I crave for myself, but dare not expect unless I forgive also!

July 23rd

It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make enquiry.”—20:25.

Interpretation.—This proverb is capable of two interpretations, according to the meaning put upon the principal verb in the first clause. In one version it would mean that he who devours (appropriates to himself) that which is consecrated to God, and afterwards makes enquiry with a view to finding a loophole of excuse, falls into a snare. But most modern critics translate the text thus: “It is a snare to a man to utter a vow (of consecration) rashly, and after vows to enquire whether he can fulfil them—to enquire with a view to their evasion. In either case the sin indicated is sacrilege, perpetrated whether in act or intention, whether through dishonesty or rashness.

Illustrations.—Achan’s crime was that he took of things “consecrated unto the Lord” and appropriated them to himself (Josh. 6:19; 7:1). Balaam, after surrendering at God’s word all hope of profit at Balak’s hands, cast about for ways of reconciling it to his conscience to grasp what he had surrendered. Through the prophet Malachi God charges the nation with having robbed Him in tithes and offerings, His dues (ch. 3:8). Ananias and his wife, having voluntarily dedicated to God of their substance, withheld a part of it, and were struck dead for the sacrilege.

Application.—God from the beginning has claimed certain things at men’s hands. Men from the beginning have made voluntary vows to God. The gospel dispensation, while it sheds a new light on the paternity of God, so teaching man his privilege to act in the spirit of a son, is not the less jealous of the honor due to God. Hence the caution given by the wise king both here and elsewhere (Eccles. 5:4–6) is as applicable to Christians as ever it was to the Jews. There are vows of ordination, of abstinence, of chastity. There is self-dedication to a special work or mode of life. There is the consecration of time or of money to God. None such obligations ought to be undertaken without sufficient thought and prayer; but when undertaken, no evasion of them should be tolerated in thought even. The Christian sense of honor ought at least to equal that of Jephthah, however mistaken in his case (Judg. 11:35), “I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.” True, no wrong vow can be binding, for previous obligations cancel it; nor can a vow ever render that morally right which is wrong. To avoid such snares, no vow should be taken till approved by a spiritual adviser. The withholding of tithes and offerings (on whatever plea) which God demands, is a sacrilege He will visit. But how plainly do the evasions men practice with their consciences demonstrate the deceitfulness of the heart!

Lord, make me a Nathanael, “without guile”!

July 24th

The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly.”—20:27.

Interpretation.—“The spirit” here spoken of is the human soul as distinguished from animal life. By this which God breathed into man he takes rank above the brute creation. It is as a torch lighted at the divine understanding, to enable him to know himself. Kept bright and used rightly, this “candle,” which in one word we call conscience, penetrates all the secret chambers of the inner man. The term “belly” is used in Hebrew to denote all that is within—the mental and moral constitution of a human being.

Illustrations.—It was conscience in Joseph’s brethren (Gen. 42:21), in Pharaoh (Exod. 9:27), in David (2 Sam. 12:13), which brought home to them a sense of sin. Conscience led Adonibezek to recognize the just retribution of his cruelty (Judg. 1:7). Herod, though a Sadducee, and as such professing to disbelieve in a resurrection, was moved by conscience to fearful apprehension lest John should have arisen from the dead (Mark 6:16). The rulers who brought before Jesus a woman taken in adultery were constrained, by conscience lighting up the chambers of memory, to go out from His presence silently.

Application.—Let me reflect upon the dignity and responsibility of my soul. Its dignity, in that it was created after God’s image in knowledge; its responsibility, in that it has a power of self-consciousness which will not suffer it to remain in darkness. Time was when the light within—an emanation from Him who “lighteth every man that cometh into the world”—beamed bright and pure, and penetrating the recesses of man’s nature discovered nought but what was “very good.” Far different now. The light too often dim may even become darkness (Luke 11:35). The inner chambers upon which it casts its rays, however fitful and uncertain, are found stained with the imagery of abominations (Ezek. 8:9–12). Have I ever looked into my own heart with the help of this candle of the Lord, and not found it so? What then? Shall I endeavor to extinguish the candle, or hide it under a bushel? Shall I shun self-examination, or try myself by a false standard? Shall I be content to walk in darkness, or by the sparks myself hath kindled? God forbid! for if this candle light me not to repentance, it surely will to remorse. If by its rays I seek not pardon now, I shall read myself condemned hereafter. But if I now judge myself, I shall not be judged (1 Cor. 11:31). Only let me remember that to enlighten conscience is the work of the Holy Ghost. And then my prayer will be—

Father of lights, restore within me the illumination of a faithful conscience by the operation of Thy good Spirit, for Thy dear Son’s sake!

July 25th (F. St. James)

The bloodthirsty hate the upright: but the just seek his soul.”—29:10.

Interpretation.—This proverb occurs in a set of proverbs concerning good governments and bad. It would be a feature of the latter that men in power, having become “men of blood” through its arbitrary exercise, should hate and persecute the upright citizen whose tacit if not avowed disapprobation they had incurred. On the contrary, just rulers, knowing his worth, would “seek,” i.e. watch over, his life, that it might be preserved to the State. The expression “seek his soul” is capable of a hostile meaning, implying designs against the life (as in 1 Sam. 20:1; 2 Sam. 4:8). But here, as in the analogous combination (Ps. 142:4), it would appear to be used in a good sense.

Illustrations.—Herod Agrippa, though no such tyrant as others of his family, showed himself a man of blood towards the Apostles James and Peter. He thought nothing of shedding their blood unjustly with the sword of justice entrusted to him, if only he might thereby curry favor with the Jews to whom these Christian saints were hateful. Herod shared or affected to share their hatred of a sect which would appear to him, as a professed observer of the law, schismatical. Far better and more just had he followed Gamaliel’s advice (Acts 5:34, etc.), and protected a body of good citizens upon whom God’s blessing manifestly rested.

Application.—The most obvious lesson this proverb teaches is the duty of prayer for those in authority, and of prudence in their selection. For although the nature of our Constitution and the force of public opinion render the tyrannical exercise of power on an extensive scale impossible, a vast amount of persecution may still be practiced under the alleged sanction of the law. Every man unrenewed by grace is a tyrant and persecutor in his heart, and hates those who are more religious than himself (Gal. 4:29). And if his office whether great or petty give him scope, he will use it to suppress as far as possible those who differ from him in their views, or whose zeal and influence excite his envy. To gain popularity with his party may be a further inducement. Whereas, a good and true man when possessed of power will extend a liberal protection to all good citizens, though not of his own politics or creed. Certain it is that bad men hate their best friends. The seed of the serpent are murderous, and if Jesus Himself escaped not their poisoned fangs, how can His servants expect to do so? I must lay my account as a Christian to be “hated of all men.” But to love their worst enemies is the Christian’s prerogative.

Be it mine, if a sufferer for Christ (like St. James), to prove myself a saint indeed, and if in authority to protect good men as such!

July 26th

Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy.”—20:28 (16:12; 17:7).

Interpretation.—Elsewhere we are told “the throne is established by righteousness.” Of this, “mercy and truth” are the component parts; the one balancing the other. They are the two good spirits who guard the sovereign better than an armed force. Specially does a wise exercise of mercy ingratiate a monarch with his subjects, and secure him their protection against enemies.

Illustrations.—Solomon’s throne was guarded by sculptured lions—emblems of his self-defensive power (1 Kings 10:18–20), and he had a strong body-guard about his person (Cant. 3:7). Yet in the love of his people, during the earlier years of his reign, lay his main support. In the administration of the Great King (foreshadowed by Solomon) we find the same excellencies combined in a far higher degree. Of Him it is truly said, “Justice and judgment are the habitation of Thy throne; mercy and truth shall go before Thy face” (Ps. 89:14). The special glory of the work of our redemption (framed in the Divine-counsels) is this, that in it “mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10).

Application.—Earthly thrones are shadows of the heavenly. But the eternal throne is based on righteousness, a happy combination of grace and truth, of love and justice. Judgment is God’s “strangework” (Isa. 28:21), “because He delighteth in mercy” (Micah 7:18). Nevertheless “a God all mercy were a God unjust.” The gospel reconciles the two attributes. It presents to the sinner an offer of a free pardon from a Judge who is far too holy to “clear the guilty” as such (Exod. 34:7). He only can do so on their accepting the Substitute graciously provided, Who has Himself borne their sins. Thus and thus only is at-one-ment made possible between the Judge and them. The throne of an earthly ruler ought to be a reflection of the throne above. He should “reign in righteousness.” So, in their degree, ought all to exercise their office who are placed in authority. The mercy shown must be righteous mercy, for this only will uphold the throne or any seat of power. With the style “high and mighty,” is usually combined “most gracious”—a hint to sovereigns. In my humble sphere let me, too, aim to be God-like. Of some circle, however small, I may probably find myself the center. Some one may look up to me for mercy; all will look for truth. As a Christian I ought to reflect the character of my King. I uphold His throne when I adorn His doctrine. The brother who finds me merciful and true will be so far conciliated towards His government. And who should be merciful if not one who has obtained mercy; and who true, if not a disciple of Him who is “the Truth”?

July 27th

The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the grey head.”—20:29 (16:31; 17:6).

Interpretation.—Each period of life has its own gifts and characteristics. Youth is the season for strength and activity, which young men are naturally proud of and admired for. In old age “the grey head,” betokening the wisdom of experience, claims honor. The one must not grudge the other its own appropriate meed of praise and esteem. But, of course, each clause of this saying must be taken with a qualification. It depends upon the character of the young man and of the old, the use to which his strength and his experience respectively is put, whether glory and beauty be his.

Illustrations.—Absalom was a young man to be admired for his physical endowments, but he turned his glory into shame. Samson, on the other hand, though by no means free from imperfections, did, on the whole, employ his wonderful strength for the glory of God, and so for his own glory. How beautiful was the sight of the grey-headed Jacob imparting words of experience and of blessing to Pharaoh and to his own sons; of Simeon chanting his “Nunc dimittis,” with the infant Jesus in his arms; of St. John exhorting his disciples to love one another! Contrast with these the old prophet of Bethel seducing to sin by virtue of his superior age. Contrast Ahithophel looked up to as a venerable sage, but his crafty counsel turned into foolishness.

Application.—The youth, in the bloom of fresh, unwasted strength, devoting himself to God, and “strong to overcome the wicked one” (1 John 2:14), is a spectacle which men and angels may admire. “Jesus” Himself “beholding” loved such a young man (Mark 10:21). Not less beautiful, though after another type, is the aged pilgrim ripe in the wisdom of Christian experience, his “silver crown” shadowing forth the crown of life ere long to be his. And who so likely to attain to a majestic old age as the youth who, early satisfied with God’s mercy, does all his work in the world under an abiding sense of the same? But as each age has its own characteristics, so its own foibles. Let not youth despise the deliberation, prudence, and physical infirmities of old age, nor lightly esteem that wisdom which is the fruit of a life’s experience. Let old men reverence youth, and, valuing its energy and ambition, make allowance for its inevitable failings. On the successive periods of life let “holiness to the Lord” be inscribed. If I am young, let my vigour be spent upon His service. If I am advanced in years, may my influence be ever wielded in the cause of truth and righteousness!

July 28th

The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.”—20:30 (19:18).

Interpretation.—There is a comparison here drawn. A wound left by a scourge, whether open or “compressed” (as some translate the Hebrew), by its recent discharge of blood reduces internal inflammation or congestion; thus cleansing away evil from the system. In like manner severe chastisement, whether from God’s hand or man’s, penetrating, where no scourge can reach, into the inner life of man, exerts (or ought to do so) a reforming influence. The lesson taught is that in certain cases severe chastisement (even corporal) is the only remedy. Whatever its nature, it must be real, and leave its mark.

Illustrations.—Manasseh, taken “among the thorns,” and loaded with Babylonish chains, was thus brought back to God so as to escape the everlasting chains of darkness (2 Chron. 33:12, 13; Jude 6). The holy nation becoming unholy and chastened from time to time, was at last given up to the scourge of a foreign oppressor, after which it “trembled at the words of the God of Israel,” and eschewed idolatry for ever (2 Chron. 36:14–16; Ezra 9:4). The incestuous Corinthian, by the extreme discipline of excommunication, was led to true repentance, and the Church itself thus purged of the evil (1 Cor. 1:5; 2 Cor. 2:4–8; 7:8, etc.).

Application.—“No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous.” And earthly parents are in some cases obliged (out of love) to inflict very severe bodily correction in order to reduce a willful child to obedience. So also the heavenly Father deals with us as with sons, and by trials of various kinds, some bodily, some spiritual, would purify our gross nature. Gentle strokes are first tried, then heavier, some which leave a life-long mark—wounds which remind of sin even when forgiven. For a rightly disposed man will be subject to God not only for wrath but for conscience sake (Rom. 13:5). But he whose conscience is seared as with a hot iron, for him “the law was made” (1 Tim. 1:9), and must be applied to him without sparing in order that his spirit may be saved. For the design of all God’s afflictive dispensations is to cure of sin, even as a wise surgeon probes the wound or removes the diseased member that the body may be healed. But as fire either melts or hardens, so the divine punishments have an opposite effect, according to the nature on which they operate. Earthly parents are too often weakly indulgent and lay down the scourge, or soften their reproofs before they have done their work. But—

O my God, do Thou, in view of eternity, separate my soul which Thou lovest by whatever scourgings from the sin Thou hatest, that it be not my ruin!

July 29th

To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”—21:3 (15:8).

Interpretation.—The terms “justice and judgment” as here used mean not the virtues of the tribunal so much “as the thing that is just and right between man and man,” the duty towards our neighbor. Sacrifice is a duty towards God not here depreciated, but in itself, without corresponding moral principles, less acceptable than those, nay, a positive offence. The reason of which is clear. Sacrifice, or the ceremonial part of religion, is arbitrary, typical or commemorative, temporary. But judgment and justice, a reflection of God’s image upon man, belong to the eternal rule of right.

Illustrations.—King Saul was reminded of this truth when for obedience he would have substituted sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22). The Jews required to be continually retaught it by their prophets (Isa. 1:11–17; Jer. 7:21–28; Hos. 6:6). In our Lord’s day erroneous views on this subject were at their height, and the corban sacrifice was put in the room of filial obligation (Mark 7:9–15). Howbeit, there were still a few who had apprehended that duty performed to God and the neighbor is “more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices,” and such Jesus pronounced “not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:33, 34).

Application.—Clearly, it is in human nature to prefer a religion of externals to the practice of moral duties. The one is so much less easy of performance than the other. Let me not doubt that a “temptation common to man” will find me out also. I may easily persuade myself that strict attention to Church ordinances, e.g. regular attendance at the Eucharistic Sacrifice, will make up for dereliction of home duties, or even for conventional immorality of one kind or another. When thus tempted, let me call to mind this “counsel of the wise king,” which comes with peculiar force from him who built the Temple, and offered “sacrifices that could not be told for multitude” (1 Kings 8:5). Let me remember that there can be no dispensation from righteousness (Isa. 58:3; Prov. 7:14). That no external acts of worship will compensate for lack of faith, truth, and charity. That sacrifice is only acceptable to God when offered by those who have prepared their heart to offer it (2 Chron. 30:19), otherwise it is an abomination in His eyes (Isa. 1:11). Not that I am to neglect or perform carelessly even the minutest duties of worship, and specially of its highest act. If I do, it will be justly laid to my charge, “These oughtest thou to have done, and not to have left the other undone.”

May grace be given me ever so to worship God with such repentance, faith, and love, that my common life corresponding with my prayers may be itself an acceptable act of worship!

July 30th

An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin.”—21:4.

Interpretation.—Critics are divided as to the Hebrew word here rendered “the plowing.” It may be a word that means “the lamp or light” as the marginal reading gives it. Either will admit of an appropriate meaning. If we take “lamp,” then we have the prosperity of the haughty, boastful man denounced as only the climax of his sin. If “plowing,” then we are taught that even ordinary and lawful duties, where the heart is not right, are performed from a principle and in a spirit which makes them sinful in God’s sight. Or, if we connect the three, then, proud aspirations, covetous ambition, and evil execution of both in deliberate action, may be intended.

Illustrations.—In the last-mentioned view of this proverb, Haman stands out as a notable example of a heart swelling with pride, betraying itself in lofty aspirations, seeking to compass its ends by whatever means. His prosperity, the climax of his ambition, was also the crisis of his fate. Or, if we take “plowing” in its more literal sense, then our Lord’s parable of the Great Supper furnishes an illustration. For there a supercilious indifference proceeding out of a proud heart rejects an invitation on plea of business (e.g. ploughing) which is thereby converted into sin.

Application.—Of the picture here presented to our mind’s eye, who has not seen the counterpart in real life? Not on Eastern soil only is to be found that specimen of the braggart who boasts himself a self-made man, with whom self is all, and there is no recognition of God. His own hands have kindled his own lamp, supplied the oil, sheltered, and kept it burning. His own hands have done all his ploughing, and even created as well as gathered in the harvest. The higher he rises, the more are his eyelids lifted up, and the more unacceptable he becomes to Him who pondereth the heart. Have I seen and shrunk from this purse-proud or self-sufficient man, whose very aspect proclaims his character, who is proud of his very pride? And shall I not avoid the first steps of the incline which lead up to such a pedestal of arrogance? There is a sense in which a self-made man is an honor to himself, his country, and his God. But this is where success has followed upon prayerful labor, and is borne with God-fearing humility. The aspirations of such a man will have been high not proud, his ambition honorable not covetous. Worse still is the case of those (alas! how many!) whose pride, ambition, glory, yea, business, is in their sin, that upon which they boast themselves, as though it proved them brave. Over such an Apostle wept (Phil. 3:18, 19).

July 31st

The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want.”—21:5 (10:4; 19:2; 20:21).

Interpretation.—Diligence is here contrasted, not with laziness, but with haste. And the hasty one spoken of is not the prompt and ready, but the rash, or greedy, or unstable man. Plenteousness or prosperity will be the reward of him who gives his mind as well as his hands to business. But that man will come to want sooner or later who acts without forethought, or who ceases to act without afterthought; whose work lacks care, circumspection, and thoroughness; who is in too great haste to be rich. The proverb may be applied to the spiritual life as well as to the affairs which concern this world only.

Illustrations.—We may contrast Jacob, by steady, thoughtful labor growing rich, with Achan losing in a moment all his hastily and illgotten wealth. Our Lord spoke of seed which should spring up quickly, and as quickly wither; of this Simon Magus and Demas would seem to be examples.

Application.—There is a striking analogy between the labor that obtains the meat which perisheth and that which wins eternal life. In both cases it must be undertaken with due consideration and forethought. It must be carried on heartily, out of love for it—con amore, as we say. There must be steady perseverance to the end. The husbandman that laboureth is partaker of the fruit, i.e. he who suspends not his labor till the ingathering has taken place. He wins the crown of life who runs (not with haste, but) with patience the race set before him. An impulsive, fickle, changeable man of business will not succeed. Nor will he in the long run who substitutes fortune-hunting of whatever sort for steady pains and toil. Still less will he gain heaven who having begun well relaxes his efforts too soon; having put his hand to the plough looks back; or thinks that glory is to be achieved by spasmodic, excited efforts rather than by quiet steady growth in grace. The consequences of inconsiderateness are in either case as terrible as of a crime—failure of worldly success—loss of the soul. On the other hand, prudent counsels with diligence added bring wealth. A little done regularly and thoughtfully (for thoughts are as needful as hands) will tell in the end. Our work should move forward rhythmically, like the stars, without haste, but also without rest. For haste is undisciplined impulse, and for rest we shall have eternity. Or rather, will not “the rest that remaineth for the people of God” consist, like the earthly sabbath, of a still nobler kind of work pursued in the more immediate presence of God, without haste or weariness, and increasingly congenial to the soul in its upward soarings?[1]

 

 

[1] Pearson, C. R. (1881). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 2, pp. 1–31). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)

August

August 1st

The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death.”—21:6 (13:11).

Interpretation.—There are various renderings of this passage. But the general meaning is well expressed in our version. The word “vanity” signifies evil means as contrasted with honest and good. All folly and sin is vanity. When treasures are gotten through falsehood and trickery, however secure they may seem, they are in reality as uncertain as a fleeting breath, or as chaff driven with the wind. And those who seek them at so tremendous a risk and count them their life, are (little as they may think it) courting death (8:36; 11:19). They act as if bent upon their own ruin, and are ensnared by death while attempting to ensnare others (1 Tim. 6:9).

Illustrations.—A notorious instance of the above is Judas Iscariot. Bent upon possessing what in his eyes was a treasure, he played false to the best of Masters. Yet so far from enjoying the reward of his iniquity, it was tossed to and fro between him and his purchasers, and proved a noose for his own neck. Other instances of the same are Achan and Gehazi, Ananias and Sapphira. The first two amassed treasures by unscrupulous means, which were soon exchanged for death or worse than death. The other pair having tossed between them a concocted story, by which they hoped to secure unmerited credit, found themselves suddenly in the clutches of Death, whom they had unwittingly gone out of their way to seek.

Application.—There is a right and a wrong road to plenteousness, and who can doubt that duplicity of whatever kind is not the way God approves? But more—we are here given to understand that it is a way which will sooner or later entangle a man in the toils of that cunning hunter—Death. Not unfrequently, crime induced by too eager a desire for wealth terminates in one way or another the career of the artful schemer. His soul is in any case sacrificed to his greed. Unrighteous gain is a terribly dear bargain. Granted that treasure is amassed, does it yield satisfaction? Or is it not secretly acknowledged to be a vanity, and tossed to and fro between the censures of conscience and of men? Moreover, this vanity is (as it were) tossed to and fro between man and man. For men learn it one of another, and cheats and dupes successively change places. But do I indeed believe that to seek dishonest gain is really to seek death, ay, and that eternal? Then let me eschew all such, and turn the adulterated gold (if I have any) out of my coffers. For ill-gotten treasure will prove “a thief locked up in the counting-house, who will steal all, and my soul with it.”

August 2nd

It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.”—21:9 (5:19; 19:13; 27:15) (or vide p. 185.

Interpretation.—Orientals are in the habit of sitting and sleeping on their housetops in warm weather. But more is signified by these words. The idea is of solitariness and exposure to all weathers. We are reminded of David’s simile of “a sparrow that sitteth alone upon the housetop,” the corner or pinnacle of the roof (Ps. 102:7). The point of the comparison here is that to escape the tempest within raised continually by a brawling woman (whether wife or other), it were better to dwell alone and face the howling wind and the “continual dropping” of the rain outside, than under the shelter of a wide house, “a house of companionship.”

Illustrations.—Job’s wife would seem (under Satan’s influence) to have so aggravated his distress by her tongue as to make solitariness preferable to her companionship. Solomon may have brought upon himself the trial he here so vividly depicts in the crowded seraglio of his own unhallowed choosing. The wife of Socrates and of our own great Hooker are well-known instances in point.

Application.—God in His tender mercy said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” But sin entering into the world has perverted marriage (too often) from a blessing into a curse. Better to be alone than to have for a helpmeet one whose unruly tongue makes her a hindrance and a bane. But why be so ill-mated as to long for deliverance at almost any cost from the wife of one’s bosom? Why, indeed, if the momentous question of marriage were made, as it ought to be, a subject of conscientious consideration and prayer? Why, if that estate were deemed “holy,” and never entered upon without the assurance of God’s approval and blessing on both sides? But should a false step have been taken in this matter, what then remains to be done? First, let every effort be made to restrain contention by preventive habit of Christian discipline. “Passion improves nothing, patience much.” Far better give place to one another than to the devil. Next, let good influences of relatives or friends be tried, if possible, and the exorcising power of united prayer. If all fail, and the home be in truth, through the fault of one, unbearable, a friendly separation may be advised. But not divorce, which is permissible for one cause only (Matt. 5:32). Too often the fault is not on one side only, but on both. But until matrimony is recognized as a sacrament, it were hopeless to expect a widespread improvement in the mutual recognition of conjugal relations.

August 3rd

Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.”—21:13.

Interpretation.—The word here used for “poor” is a word not opposed to rich, but to strong. It signifies, therefore, the distressed in whatever way. To stop the ears is deliberately to refuse to hear (Acts 7:57), to shut up the bowels of compassion. The lesson inculcated is that, by the law of retribution, “He shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy” (Jas. 2:13).

Illustrations.—The pitiless Agag, whose sword had made many a woman childless, was himself (contrary to his hopes) hewn in pieces before the Lord (1 Sam. 15:33). The Jews in Zechariah’s time, who, instead of showing mercy and compassion every one to his brother, as commanded, had “made their hearts as an adamant stone,” were threatened with being unheard when they should cry to the Lord (Zech. 7:12, 13). The unmerciful servant, in the parable, is represented as receiving at his master’s hands similar harsh treatment to that he had dealt his fellow-servant. Dives, who had denied his crumbs when upon earth, is denied a drop of water to cool his tongue in Hades.

Application.—The motive offered by Christ’s religion is love in return for love. But for those who are inaccessible to that, “terrors of the Lord” are provided. This is one. I ought to show kindness to the needy and distressed, because myself a subject of God’s redeeming mercy. But, besides this, I am admonished that with what measure I mete, it shall be measured to me again. The truth cuts both ways. If I harden my heart against the claims of real sufferers, I must expect not only the same treatment at the hands of my fellow-creatures in my own hour of need, but also at the hands of God. But if I never turn my face from any poor man, then the face of the Lord shall not be turned away from me (Tob. 4:7). Not that indiscriminate almsgiving is here recommended. There is a stopping of the ears which is a virtue. God’s Word discountenances the trade of begging. But there are many real cases of suffering which demand my sympathy and aid. To pay no heed to these is cruel insensibility; when the heart is hard, the ear is deaf. But a hard heart, how unlike Him who is pitiful and of tender mercy! Surely the prayers which ought to be but are not heard by me, will be heard against me, when they enter into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.

God give me that sense of my own indebtedness to Him which shall not only open my ears to the cry of the needy, but save me from the niggard and luxurious habits which virtually make almsgiving impossible!

August 4th

A gift in secret pacifieth anger: and a reward in the bosom strong wrath.”—21:14.

Interpretation.—The word “gift” may mean a bribe, but not necessarily. It may equally denote an offering, on the part of one who has offended, by way of acknowledgment and propitiation. The secrecy observed, the concealment of the present in the lap or fold of the garment, will be attributable to cunning or to delicacy, according as we adopt the first or the second of these Interpretation. In either case, the experience of the wise king had taught him that, as a rule, money was powerful to conquer resentment, whether judicial or private.

Illustrations.—The bribes taken by Samuel’s sons and later judges in Israel (1 Sam. 8:3; Isa. 5:23) were, doubtless, proffered secretly, with a view to averting the just indignation of the law which they were bound to administer. But Jacob, in the present with which he so delicately surprised his brother (Gen. 33:8, etc), and Abigail in the offering which she indirectly presented to David (1 Sam. 25:27), took prudent and successful measures for pacifying strong wrath.

Application.—It is a trite saying that “money commands all things.” This can only be accepted with many qualifications, but certainly anger is among the things over which it not unfrequently does exhibit its power. Happily, in our land, with rare exceptions, the judge proves inaccessible to the bribe. And so weighty is public opinion, and, on the whole, so just, that were a bribe to be even tendered it could only be so under cover of closest secrecy. Far different, however, is the case where personal offence is concerned. It may sometimes be highly proper and expedient to accompany or to follow up an apology with some tangible token alike of sorrow or good-will. This, if done discreetly and with good taste, will often cause a reaction of feeling in the donor’s favour. But, as a rule, it should be a matter betwixt the two parties alone, or wounded pride may take fresh offence. Only in some cases, where the offence had been public, could there be any “needs be” for the amende honorable to be made in the presence of others. But now, let me ask myself if money and money’s worth be thus potent to overcome resentment and chase away the clouds of anger, ought not Christian principle to avail far more? What! shall wounded pride be expelled by another passion (the love of money), and not by grace?

Oh, may love to Him who gave Himself, the “unspeakable Gift,” to avert His Father’s wrath from me, constrain me for the sake of that Gift to forego resentment!

August 5th

The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.”—21:16.

Interpretation.—The way of true piety is the alone way of understanding. To wander wilfully out of that (and not return) is suicidal to the soul. The man who does so will (as is ironically said) “find a resting-place” indeed (as a guest at a banquet, as a sheep in the fold), but—among the multitude who did evil. As apostates from the faith, their position shall be with the giant sinners of old, in the abode of darkness and misery. They shall be fellow-guests with those who are in the depths of hell (9:18). Death shall be their shepherd and feed them (Ps. 49:14).

Illustrations.—The apostate angels are congregated in everlasting chains under darkness. Along with them will be found (we must fear) such renegades as Saul, Ahithophel, Jehoram, Judas. With them will rest (but not in peace) those unhappy excommunicate who, after having known the way of righteousness, have (deliberately) turned from the holy commandment delivered unto them (2 Pet. 2:21).

Application.—Who would not rather desire to come “to the general Assembly and Church of the First-born, which are written in heaven” (Heb. 12:22)? But if this be my aim as a Christian (and surely it is), let me avoid the first step “out of the way.” Apostacy begins in the heart. There is an indulged craving after the forbidden path or ever it is entered upon. There are inward misgivings and external calls which might for a while reclaim. But if, spite of all, persisted in, that path becomes as increasingly dear to the sinner and natural to him as the better pathway to the true Christian. And while the one is as surely pressing forward to the “rest that remaineth for the people of God,” and the “banqueting house” of Jesus, the other as surely (however unwittingly) is gradually approaching that abyss which shall terminate his wanderings for ever in “his own place” (Acts 1:25). How distressing the thought that many who once started on the right road, and bade fair for the heavenly home, have wandered out of the way of understanding, and are (as Bunyan saw them) stumbling among the tombs! They had no thought of this when first they went astray, with a light heart and confident mien, purposing to return erewhile. But now their abode seems to be among the congregation of the dead, and may be fixed there. Let me, then, never follow the multitude to do evil, but choose and keep the narrow road with the few. For if holy Paul had need of watchfulness and self-discipline that he might not, after all, prove “a castaway,” is not the same need mine?

August 6th

He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich.”—21:17.

Interpretation.—Sensuality, and as its consequence extravagant habits, are here warned against as tending to poverty. By “pleasure” we need not understand aught that is necessarily vicious or criminal, but enjoyments of sense, specially in connection with social festivities. The sin lies in loving these, and like all sin proves itself folly in the end. Wine and oil, products of Canaan, might be manufactured to any price. The costly spikenard, e.g., given by Mary to Jesus was worth three hundred days’ wages of a field labourer (comp. John 12:3–5 with Matt. 20:9). The word rendered “poor” signifies very often moral and intellectual poverty, as well as financial.

Illustrations.—The careless daughters of Judah, “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God” (Isa. 32:9–11), Babylon besotted and improvident (Isa. 47:8, 9), Nineveh proverbial for merriment (Zeph. 2:15), are all examples on a large scale of the ruinous consequences of wasteful luxury. In the parables of Dives and of the prodigal son, the effects of that folly, whether criminal or not, both in this world and the next are depicted in lively colours.

Application.—God gives us all things richly to enjoy. And the wine and oil, here spoken of as luxuries, are among His good gifts. It cannot, therefore, be wrong to enjoy the delights of sense soberly and lawfully. But to love them, to set one’s heart upon them, to covet and study them, in short, to relish them as though they were man’s best portion, above all spiritual joys, this is the part of a voluptuary. Such a man will become more and more intoxicated with pleasures (even those that are in themselves lawful), and will end in becoming a sensual devotee. And while he mistakes these shadows for substantial happiness, he is losing all which constitutes the real substance of life. For the love of sensual enjoyment is incompatible with that of spiritual, which however is “far better.” If, then, an empty purse is apt to be the portion sooner or later of the voluptuary, if he may come to want necessaries who cannot do without superfluities, still more is his soul beggared by so unwise a choice. He runs the risk of that “woe” which is pronounced on such as have received their consolation in what they esteemed their “good things,” and leaves the world destitute of “the true riches.”

Oh may my heart be so lifted up as to acquire such a taste for the nobler pleasures which are at God’s right hand, as that all earthly pleasures may be enjoyed in subordination to those!

August 7th

There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up.”—21:20.

Interpretation.—A correspondence may be observed between this and the last proverb treated of (ver. 17), but they are by no means identical. That spoke of luxuriousness as the parent of poverty under any circumstances. This, more definitely, points out how treasure accumulated by a wise man may be “swallowed” up by a fool who succeeds to it. “Treasure to be desired” indicates that which has been well-gotten, by God’s blessing upon honest industry. Treasure accumulated by unrighteous means is not desirable. Far better to be without it (comp. 10:2). Such treasure, a sum of money more or less put by as capital, may be found not only in the mansion, but, as the word here used probably means (comp. 3:33), in the small house tenanted by a prudent man. Nor only that which supplies the necessaries of life, but simple luxuries also, for which “oil” stands. Should, however, a foolish son or other heir succeed to this property, how soon will he squander it all, perhaps swallow it up in feasting and drunkenness! The proverb is capable of a spiritual as well as of this economic signification.

Illustrations.—Solomon’s only son, whom he may have had in his mind, here as elsewhere, acted out this proverb when he came to the throne. Through his exceeding folly he so displeased God that all the treasures accumulated by his father were soon carried away from palace and Temple (2 Chron. 12:9). Naboth was prudently unwilling to part with the inheritance of his fathers. The prodigal son devoured his with riotous living. The parable of the ten virgins teaches the need of husbanding the precious oil of God’s grace.

Application.—We are cautioned in God’s Word against laying up treasure in a worldly, covetous spirit, against setting our hearts on money. To them that “trust in riches,” not to those who merely possess them, are our Lord’s startling words of warning spoken, as He Himself explained (Mark 10:24). But prudence is not worldliness. Indifference to threatening trials deserves not to be called faith, but simplicity. Not to secure by just means a provision for the future would be presumptuous. But, having obtained it, to run through it as fast as possible were the conduct of a fool. How much more so, when the treasure is grace inherited at my Baptism as laid up in God’s house, to be prized and resorted to for the soul’s life and joy, not to be trifled with and forfeited! In the Church is “treasure to be desired”—an open Bible; a Catholic form of worship; ministry of the Word, of Absolution, and of the Sacraments; the Holy indwelling Spirit; the unction of grace and consolation suited to every need. Shall I waste these privileges and not rather become rich unto God thereby?

August 8th

He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honour.”—21:21.

Interpretation.—Righteousness and mercy comprehend man’s duty to his neighbour. The first, which is the giving every one his due, may also include, and that primarily, the duty to God. To “follow after” is to strive earnestly to fulfil these duties. He who does so will in no wise lose his reward. He shall find “righteousness,” just treatment in return for his at the hand of neighbours; and more, God will regard him as righteous for works done out of faith and love to Christ. As having been merciful, he shall obtain mercy. And what he did not so consciously follow after, that, too, he shall obtain in addition, life, that true and happy existence which is alone worth the name; honour, the praise of men and Heaven’s smile.

Illustrations.—Abraham followed after righteousness (Gen. 12:4; 22:3, 10) and mercy (Gen. 14:14; 18:23–32), and found life (Gen. 25:7, 8), righteousness (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3), and honour (Gen. 22:17, 18). He was respected by his fellow-creatures (Gen. 14:18, 19; 23:5, 6), and distinguished as the friend of God (2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8; Jas. 2:23) and father of all those that believe (Rom. 4:11).

Application.—It has been well said that “men will wrangle about religion, fight for it, die for it,—anything but live for religion.” Again, there is a tendency in human nature to substitute sentiment, doctrine, ritual, benevolence, for the practical duties of religion towards God and man. The wise king (from the wisdom God gave him) teaches repeatedly that the virtues of justice and charity in dealing with our fellow-men are substantial parts of religion, along with the fear and knowledge and worship of the Most High. The practice of them does not merit heaven (being never perfect), but it is its ordained pathway and helps to make meet for it. By many other ways a factitious honour, lasting only for a time, may be achieved. But real greatness lies in moral worth, which is also the foundation of true happiness. The “unjust” will be excluded from heaven equally with the unholy (Rev. 22:11). The unmerciful will not obtain mercy any more than the unbelieving (Rev. 21:8; Jas. 2:13). Not, then, as Israel of old (Rom 9:31), but in the faith of Jesus will “I follow after” righteousness. For this following after is not the toiling at a daily task, not an irksome law, but freedom, enlargement, exaltation. The will of the pardoned, grateful soul is in love with those cords and bands which draw it nearer to God. But let me persevere. For the high standard of perseverance will only just bring me to the goal.

August 9th

A wise man scaleth the city of the mighty, and casteth down the strength of the confidence thereof.”—21:22.

Interpretation.—By “the strength of the confidence thereof” is to be understood the fortress in which they trusted. The proverb teaches that even in war sagacious counsel often effects more than brute force. The truth is applicable to the conquest of great difficulties in general. It may be understood spiritually as well as figuratively of the “pulling down of (the) strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4) of Satan in the human heart.

Illustrations.—By a stratagem Joshua took Ai, which might otherwise have held out long (Josh. 8). Babylon, apparently impregnable, was easily possessed by Cyrus, when he had in his wisdom diverted the river from its channel. Solomon would seem to have known “a poor wise man,” who by his wisdom delivered a city (Eccles. 9:15), but it is uncertain whether he spoke of a past event or foreshadowed what was to come. If the latter Isaiah’s wisdom from above touching Jerusalem when threatened by Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:6, etc.), corresponds with the saying; whose good service was not remembered, for he was slain by the next king. A wise woman in David’s reign delivered the city Abel (2 Sam. 20:16, etc.). It was “not by might, nor by power,” but by God’s Spirit (of wisdom), that the Apostles and all Christ’s ministers have overthrown superstition and error (2 Cor. 10:4, 5; Zech. 4:6).

Application.—The conquest of difficulties is the test of a great mind. For this is rather to be achieved by sagacity and perseverance than by mere personal prowess, and that, not only in war. A poor man may thus excel a rich one, and the weak prove more successful than the strong. Boastfulness is, as a rule, an element of weakness even in trials of physical strength; how much more of spiritual! In ordinary warfare good counsel does more than brute force or skilled use of weapons. The two must, at any rate, go together to ensure distinguished success. Would I conquer the enemy within my own heart, I must go to work wisely, seeking wisdom from above. I must count the cost (Luke 14:28), must know my own weakness (2 Cor. 12:10), must put on the whole armour of God (Eph. 6:10, 12). “The strong man armed keepeth his palace” (whether in my own heart or that of others to whom I am sent for deliverance), “until a stronger than he shall come upon him” (Luke 11:20–22). Let me not forget who that stronger Man is.

It is Thou, O Jesus, “mighty to save,” and only through union with Thee sacramentally and by living faith can I ever hope to cast down the strength of Satan’s confidence.

August 10th

Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.”—21:23 (13:3; 18:6).

Interpretation.—The term “mouth” has been supposed to signify appetite. But the best critics take both “mouth and tongue” to refer to speech. The careful guarding and restraining of this faculty preserves the soul from many troubles, from anxieties, fears, regrets, remorse.

Illustrations.—Job incautiously “multiplied words without knowledge,” and sinned in so doing (ch. 35:16; 40:4, 5). His three friends erred thus also, and in their rashness both wounded Job and spake not of God the thing that is right (ch. 42:7). David showed a wise and religious reticence when his infant son by Bathsheba was judicially taken from him. For when at last his pent-up feelings burst forth, it was not in murmuring, but in a solemn elegy concerning the mystery of death (Ps. 39:3, etc.). But Job’s wife, breaking down under her accumulated troubles, only added woefully to their number by taking into her mouth the very words suggested by Satan (ch. 1:11; 2:9).

Application.—Among the proverbs of restraint none occur more frequently than those which concern our speech. The harm we may do to others by a misuse of that precious faculty is set forth again and again. But in this one we are warned against injury to our own souls. For the furtherance of the spiritual life a calm atmosphere is most favorable. The tender exotics of grace languish and at last die under rough and biting gales. So that it is well, as much as lieth in us, to “live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18). But an unguarded tongue provokes controversies and quarrels which discompose the spirit, unfitting it for communion with God. Moreover, the rash revealing of a secret, the repetition of an unkind story, the expression of an uncharitable opinion—what painful consciousness of sin do these leave behind! Truly, where thought and prayer prevent not speech, repentance is almost sure to follow after. Let me beware when I mount my hobby (some favorite subject of discourse), that it run not away with me, like an unbridled horse, into fearful jeopardy. Speech was given to be an organ of divine praise, and to make music in the soul. But, let Satan handle it, and what discords of shame and folly are given forth! Alas! may not the utterances of an unguarded hour go far to shake the credit of years of discreetness? Let me then cultivate a deep and watchful sensibility on the subject of speech. It is the outcome of the heart, it will be the groundwork of judgment. Let me keep my tongue for His service Who redeemed it from sin to show forth His praise!

August 11th

Proud and haughty scorner is his name, who dealeth in proud wrath.”—21:24.

Interpretation.—The omission of the conjunction (in italics) gives more emphasis. “Proud, haughty scorner is the name of him who dealeth in the wrath of pride.” The “scorner” of Solomon’s day, as already explained (vol. i. p. 20), is the freethinker of ours. But the term may be applied socially as well as religiously. To such a one God Himself has attached the epithets “proud and haughty,” and his fellow-men endorse them. The character described is one of the most odious and unpopular.

Illustrations.—Pharaoh and Sennacherib dealt “in wrath of pride,” which found vent in proud and haughty words towards Jehovah (Exod. 5:2; Isa. 37:10). Asa, whose “heart was perfect with the Lord,” in abhorrence of idolatry, yet gave way to wrath of pride toward the end of his days (1 Kings 15:14; 2 Chron. 16:10–13). Haman became arrogant to that degree that nothing short of the blood of a whole nation could appease his wounded pride. David had to contend with many such men; self-satisfied ones, “enclosed in their own fat,” who with their mouth spoke proudly (Ps. 17:10); irreligious men, with “a high look and proud heart” (Ps. 101:5); men like Shimei, whose “teeth were spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword” (Ps. 57:4). The Pharisees and Sadducees of our Lord’s time, each, as a class, answered to the description in our text.

Application.—Pride is the fuel of wrath, if not the match which ignites it. A proud and haughty man cannot bear the least slight, to be crossed or contradicted, but immediately he is out of humour and in a heat. Such men inspire dread. No one cares to have much to do with them. They become isolated in their pride, like the tyrant who said, “Let them hate me so they but fear me.” But how many could afford to live after this manner? They get an unenviable reputation. Nay, God has affixed a name to them, and His stamp is indelible. The proudest of men may not allow that he is proud, yet God so calls him. Or he may even secretly pride himself on his pride, on his power of withering his fellow-creatures with scorn, and subjecting the faith of the Church to destructive criticism. But what a miserable delusion is this! Contrast this “stout-hearted” one (Isa. 46:12) with the man “that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at God’s word” (Isa. 66:2). To him God “will look;” the other “He knoweth afar off” (Ps. 138:6). Let me beware of those arrogant freethinkers (they abound in the present day) to whom nothing is holy, and every man a target for their barbed arrows of criticism. Let me avoid words or thoughts and expressions that savor of scorn.

O God, make me humble and keep me so!

August 12th

The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour.”—21:25 (13:4; 19:24).

Interpretation.—This proverb is susceptible of more than one meaning. It may teach that inordinate desire after rest and pleasure, to be always seeking only enjoyment and idleness, will conduct at last to ruin, and that, not only through poverty, but through crime. Or it may depict one who wastes his strength in unsatisfied longings for something he has not energy to gain. It may be connected with ver. 26, where the man who has wasted his own life in fruitless longings, frets himself to death with envy at his more prosperous because more energetic neighbor, who has “enough and to spare” for others. From a spiritual point of view it corresponds with the well-known saying, “Hell is paved with good intentions.”

Illustrations.—The unmanly murmurings of the Israelites preferring the flesh (of fish) which they had eaten gratis in Egypt with their bondage there, to the manna which they had to gather with their own hands as a free people, were punished with a satiety of other flesh which killed great numbers of them (Numb. 11:5, etc.; 1 Cor. 15:39). Gehazi, grasping covetously at what might have been gained by honest labor, became the victim of a wasting disease. Reuben, being “unstable as water,” was pronounced unable to “excel” (Gen. 49:4). The Apostle speaks of some as “ever learning” (not without desire), “and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth,” through lack of energy to seek it out for themselves (2 Tim. 3:7).

Application.—With what variety in God’s Word is the same subject brought before us! Here we have the finishing stroke of that sloth which has elsewhere been satirized. To sit still and starve rather than put forth needful exertion. To think to live by wishing, and die of envy of others who have achieved their wishes by honest toil. To resort to unprincipled ventures or criminal attempts for the satisfaction of longings which energetic diligence might sufficiently appease. These are fruits of sloth, of that laborious idleness which expends upon desire time and effort enough, if transferred to the hands, to get it realized. And if this be folly, yea, madness, where the things of this life are concerned, how much more so in the momentous affairs of eternity! Will dreamy longings compass heaven? Nay, for the desire of grace is only grace when predominant. “Dead desires are deadly desires.” Spiritual longings not followed up will only condemn. It is with fruits of grace as of nature, “That Thou givest we gather” (Ps. 104:28). Nor is there any moment when the Lord is not giving. Our work is our recompense, our labor our wages. Howbeit, the race is to him only who runs, the prize to him who wins in the fight.

August 13th

The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination: how much more, when he bringeth it with a wicked mind.”—21:27 (15:8).

Interpretation.—The first clause of this proverb has occurred already (15:8). The second points to a circumstance which would by intensifying the wickedness of the offerer render his sacrifice still more abominable in the eyes of the all Holy One. The case is supposed of one who brings it “in wickedness.” Not as a trespass offering for a sin of incontinence (Lev. 19:20–22). But rather, with intent to commit some crime which may be expiated or condoned beforehand by such a sacrifice. How could God do otherwise than detest it, seeing it would not only lack the necessary ingredients of penitence and faith, but would be an attempt to make Him “the minister of sin”?

Illustrations.—Balaam’s sacrifices were of this nature, intended (as it were) to conciliate God towards the forbidden cursing of His own people. Jezebel proclaimed a fast, and Absalom professed a vow unto the Lord, both of them with sinister intent (2 Sam. 15:7–9; 1 Kings 21:9). Saul imagined that sacrifice would condone disobedience. The adulteress is described by Solomon as having offered peace offerings both to lull her own conscience and her unwary prey (7:14). Antinomian professors in St. James’s time (as now) offered prayers with a view to their own lusts (Jas. 4:3).

Application.—The sin in question has doubtless obtained more or less in all ages in the Church of God. History records instances of religious vows offered for success in perpetration of crime; ay, even of murder attempted or committed through the instrumentality of the Holy Sacrament. But in subtler forms such self-delusion may be more frequently practised. There may be a Pharisaic religion which seeks to cover hardness towards the poor, or greed of money, or even dishonest tricks of trade, by ostentatious attention to the ceremonies of worship, or mouthing of party shibboleths. Or, if my soul revolts at these, yet, may I not be tempted to redouble some religious exercises while retaining a beloved sin, in the hope (how vain!) that the good may outweigh the evil? Never let me forget the deceitfulness of the human heart (Jer. 17:9). From the days of Cain there has been a natural inclination to offer to God anything but what He requires, and then to be surprised and angry at His rejection of it. Men would give fruits, beasts, lips, knees, alms,—anything, in short, but their hearts. But God will accept nothing in lieu of that offering. Along with that all others will be consecrated. And so, let my prayer be—

Oh to worship God in “simplicity and godly sincerity,” and not deceive myself in the attempt (how wicked!) to deceive Him!

August 14th

There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord.”—21:30.

Interpretation.—Literally these words would not be true. For, unhappily, men do employ their intellectual faculties too often to defeat the Lord’s designs. But these very faculties by being thus employed become nullified. What was predicted comes to pass. “The wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid” (Isa. 29:14). “He taketh the wise in their own craftiness” (1 Cor. 3:19), not when their wisdom is waning, but at its zenith.

Illustrations.—How was Ahithophel befooled though accounted as an oracle of God (2 Sam. 16:23; 17:14, 23)! Herod’s device against the Lord’s Anointed, how easily was it brought to nought! The combinations of wisdom against Jesus to entangle Him in His talk, so that He should commit Himself, how were they all defeated! Yea, His very sufferings at the hands of the counsellors of the land, His scourging, unjust condemnation, torturing death, and then His burial; how did all these measures of fiendish wisdom only accomplish God’s own purposes before ordained (Acts 4:28)!

Application.—Solomon here again, as elsewhere, brings back our thoughts to the divine origin and everlasting foundation of all things—Jehovah. “Wait on the Lord” (20:22) is his “counsel” as derived from that consideration. Not that the human intellect should not employ itself about human affairs. Not that combination of counsels is to be avoided. Far from it. But that all should be done in subordination to the will of God, and with humble prayer for His guidance. In theory this is acknowledged by the prayers which precede every sitting of our own Houses of Parliament, and which we offer up for them in church. But is not the ability of our statesmen, for all that, too often engaged in framing and forwarding measures which oppose and seek to thwart the divine will as declared? Ah, how often must politics and politicians raise (so to speak) a laugh in heaven (Ps. 2:4) by their crafty but short-lived schemes “against the Lord”! How often have I, in my little sphere of influence, and with my puny powers, done the like! But, be we sure of this, that whosoever warreth against the Lamb shall be overcome (Rev. 17:14). No wisdom of man is strong enough to prevail against God. If it cope with divine wisdom, it proves but folly and madness. All counts for nothing against His will. On the other hand, as nothing avails without God, so, “If the Lord be on my side, I will not fear what man may do unto me” (Ps. 118:6).

August 15th

A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold.”—22:1.

Interpretation.—The epithet “good” is an insertion. To the Hebrew mind the word “name” by itself conveyed the idea of good repute. So we say of one who has earned a reputation, “He has got a name.” So, in the reverse sense, Job speaks of “men of no name” (ch. 30:8). The wise king here counsels against setting too much store by wealth, to which (says he) are to be preferred a good reputation, and the favor or good-will of neighbors and fellow-citizens.

Illustrations.—Abraham, Elisha, and St. Paul are examples of men who would not tarnish their good name and weaken the influence it gave them, by allowing any suspicion of avarice to rest upon their deeds of beneficence (Gen. 14:22, 23; 2 Kings 5:16; 2 Cor. 11:9). What singular good-will of her poorer neighbors had Dorcas, “a certain disciple,” won by her charitable labors (Acts 9:39)! Better than silver and gold was the will and the power to dispense benefits exercised by the Apostles, and winning for them a reputation (Acts 3:6; 5:13). Of the blessed Jesus, though poorest among men, it is recorded that He increased (as He grew) in favor—with “man” (Luke 2:52).

Application.—It were a great mistake to suppose that “a good name” is not in itself a good thing and dear to God. How often has He not interposed to vindicate it when aspersed on behalf of His servants, as e.g. in the cases of Joseph, Job, Susannah, the Blessed Virgin. “The shields of the earth belong unto God” (Ps. 47:9). By a brief parenthesis the brother of James the Less is protected from being confounded with Judas the traitor (John 14:22). So, oftentimes, a name has been rescued from calumny after death, and “not Iscariot” written against it as by an angel’s pen. Amongst ourselves gold has become insensibly the standard by which all things are too much estimated. The text recalls us to a higher one. For character will support a man under circumstances wherein riches quite fail him. Riches may relieve the bodily wants of others, but consistency of character recommends religion. A poor man’s word, if his name stand high, will go further than many a rich man’s. The good-will of neighbors will add sweetness to the good man’s lot, whether he be rich or poor; and when he fails, such friends will welcome him into everlasting habitations (Luke 16:9). Let me look then with holy contempt on mere wealth, regarding it as a means to an end, and not as though it were the end of life itself. For, used amiss, it will rob me of that “good name” and that “loving favor” which far transcend itself in value, and towards which, if rightly estimated, it might prove a golden bridge.

August 16th

The rich and poor meet together: the Lord is the Maker of them all.”—22:2.

Interpretation.—The word rendered “meet together” means rather “are found side by side.” It in fact implies an encountering of one another in the busy pathway of life, not necessarily in antagonism, but as we say, “they rub shoulders.” It is advisable accordingly for both classes to recognize the oneness of a common humanity overriding all distinctions of rank.

Illustrations.—The Israelites were reminded of this truth by the command, “Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother—the poor” (Deut. 15:11); the prohibition against despising an inferior which Job regarded, points to the same (Job 31:13). When the priest and the Levite passed by the wounded Jew, they forgot their common parentage, which the Samaritan bore in mind. Dives in like manner ignored the brotherhood of Lazarus. “Both low and high, rich and poor together” were called on to hear God’s Word in old time (Ps. 49:2), and from the lips of the best of Teachers (Luke 6:20, 24). Before the great white Throne, “both small and great” will stand (Rev. 20:12).

Application.—Class distinction must exist in the world. But it ought not to create antagonism, rather sympathy. If there are points of separation there are stronger points of unity, and a mutual dependence which cannot reasonably be ignored. The wise king lays a foundation upon which both rich and poor should alike build their relations when he reminds of a common Creator. The fact involves at once a common brotherhood. Coincident with this are points at which both classes touch. At birth the one answers the other by the same helpless cry. As to sin and suffering, both stand on the same platform. Sickness is specially a meeting-place for the two, and death a levelling down of all shades of rank. In God’s house upon earth all unite in prostrating themselves before “our Father,” and plead the one finished Sacrifice at the Christian altar. And at the bar of judgment there will be no respect of persons, nor in the future state any advantage of higher above lower degrees. With eternity as a background of view, the vast spaces between class and class disappear, even as in the expanse of heaven worlds that move in separate orbits seem to touch and even merge into one. Let then a common need, a common salvation, a common origin, make rich and poor combine for their common interests. The Creator never meant to level the world any more than the surface of the earth. But union in Christ effaces all painful distinctions. The hope of being one family casts out corroding jealousies, and sweetens the interior of social life. It is only selfishness that turns inequalities into thorns for tearing human hearts.

August 17th

By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, and honor, and life.”—22:4 (15:33; 21:21).

Interpretation.—The conjunction is not found in the original. “Humility” and “the fear of the Lord” would seem therefore to be put in apposition, as (at least to some extent) identical. For “by” the best critics agree with the marginal reading in our Bibles, in rendering “The reward of.” Thus we get the version, “Riches and honor and life (are) the reward of humility, the fear of the Lord.”

Illustrations.—Solomon himself, by his wise prayer, evinced that humility which is a sure fruit and evidence of a religious spirit, and obtained riches and honor in consequence (1 Kings 3:11, 13). Joseph, Gideon, Hananiah, Daniel, are all examples of a humility which attracted honor. John Baptist won the highest commendation from the lips of Him whom he had studiously preferred to Himself (John 3:30; Luke 7:24, etc.). St. Paul was remarkable for his humility, and who can doubt the “durable riches,” the immortal honor, “the crown of life,” which are now his (2 Tim. 4:8)?

Application.—“The fear of the Lord” is the beginning of wisdom. And “to walk humbly with God,” this is true religion. Hence, the two, “humility” and “the fear of the Lord,” are in some sort identical. Where the one is you will surely find the other. Is not the first step towards God a lowly and a contrite spirit? Does not this intensify instead of waning as the soul draws nearer to God and becomes more alive to His holiness? Did not Job under a vivid revelation of this kind forego all self-justification and abhor himself in dust and ashes? Did not Isaiah, with the vision of the Divine Majesty before his eyes, cry out, “Woe is me!” Was not the immediate effect of a perception of the Deity of Christ to make St. Peter shrink back, exclaiming, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord”? Was it not the man who had been caught up into the third heaven, who styled himself “the chief of sinners,” and “less than the least of all saints”? This humbleness of heart then is true religion, or a sure evidence of it. And the end is honor, riches, life, in the highest and most extensive sense those words will bear. Can any one then pretend that “It is vain to serve God” (Mal. 3:14)? “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” He who would be exalted to glory must first learn to be humbled. There is indeed a “voluntary humility,” which is only a form of pride (Col. 2:23). To be humble only in our own way is not humility.

Give me, O Christ, to follow Thy lowly footsteps in the way marked out by God!

August 18th

Thorns and snares are in the way of the froward: he that doth keep his soul shall be far from them.”—22:5 (15:19; 16:17).

Interpretation.—“The froward,” or perverse, is one who chooses a way for himself other than “the good and the right way,” and seeks to attain his ends by crooked means. In the exercise of this fancied liberty he will find himself entangled and wounded, like a man who is forcing his way through a thicket of thorns which is also strewn with snares. Whereas, he who hath a care of his soul (or even of his life) will go far from them, those froward ones, and thus be preserved from their sufferings, hazards, and entanglements.

Illustrations.—The Israelites, by disobediently making league with the Canaanites, found them as thorns in their side, and suffered failures and reverses from which they had been kept free while they followed the Lord under Joshua. How full of disappointments and downfalls was the tortuous path of expediency Saul chalked out for himself instead of the straightforward way of obedience! Whereas Jehoshaphat, who walked in God’s commandments, “had riches and honour in abundance” (2 Chron. 17:3, 5; comp. 22:4), and only when he allied himself with the crooked Ahab and Ahaziah encountered a reverse of fortune (2 Chron. 20:35).

Application.—It is of God’s great mercy that the ways of sin bristle with difficulties and dangers. Thus, He would deter us from them or discourage us in them. And, doubtless, many a soul has thereby been timely warned and scared from ruin. The first sharp wound inflicted by the “pricking thorn and grieving briar,” the first sad downfall, has sometimes been the saving of a tender-hearted sinner from still worse penalties. But alas! not always so. The many press forward to destruction with a daring and energy and perseverance which puts to shame the too listless and irresolute soldiers of the cross. They thrust aside the scruples which torment. They blunt the stings of conscience. They trample down remonstrance and rebuke. Disappointment and failure only stimulate them to efforts more vehement. From every fall they rise less dismayed and more reckless. The tortuous path has a cruel fascination for them, till at last it leads from the precipice into the abyss. He who sets conscience at nought will find himself hampered by that fancied liberty and tormented by his pleasures. The man who is most perversely bent on his own purposes is the most likely to be thwarted in them. Yea, even the holy gospel itself becomes a snare to the froward (Rom. 3:8; 6:1; Jude 4).

August 19th

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”—22:6 (13:24).

Interpretation.—The word here rendered “train up” may signify to “initiate,” “dedicate,” or “imbue,” and that “at the mouth (or entrance) of his path.” The “counsel” is to begin very early to fit the child for the line of life it is desired he should take; and a religious parent will think not only of this world but of the next. The promise is that, as a rule (such is the tendency of early impressions), when he is grown up he will not (at least permanently) depart from it.

Illustrations.—The power of good education and its proper result are declared elsewhere by God in regard to Abraham: “I know him, that he will command his children after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord” (Gen. 18:19). Samuel, early dedicated to God, continued steadfast to his life’s end. Joseph retained the savor of a pious bringing-up through life. Timothy, instructed as a child in divine truth, was, as an adult, converted to the faith of Christ (2 Tim. 3:15). Solomon would seem to have returned to the good and the right way in his old age. The prodigal son is represented as coming to himself through the recollection of his home privileges.

Application.—It may be intended to teach here that a monotonous discipline rigorously enforced upon all children alike, without regard to temperament or character, is not the best way of bringing them up. The parental rule should adapt itself to individual circumstances; the parental eye should detect the way of life for which each child is naturally most fitted. Above all things, the aim from the very first should be to win and educate the child for God; to preoccupy its heart-soil with good principles ere the seed of bad ones be sown. For all experience teaches that, if not trained in the way they should go, children will follow their own way, and be trained in that wherein they should not go. For a father to leave religion an open question to his son is to abdicate his own functions. He might, with even more kindness, expose the child to perish in his infancy. Crime and punishment rebounding upon the parent are the Nemesis of such neglect. Neglected children, grown up, will make their voice heard and their weight felt. But the honest endeavour made with constant prayer to teach by word and example and more, to teach from the first the baptized little one as God’s own child for Him in the Church’s ways, will not fail of its reward. Home is the first and best school; and, as the home, so will the child be, as a rule, and its remembrance in after years be blessed or cursed.

August 20th

The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”—22:7.

Interpretation.—It is in the order of Providence that the rich upon whom the poor are necessarily more or less dependent for a livelihood, should have great power over them. But the borrower puts himself into the power of another and becomes (so to speak) the lender’s servant.

Illustrations.—How a rich man might lord it over a poor man may be seen in Nathan’s parable about David, as illustrated further by Ahab’s treatment of his poorer neighbor (2 Sam. 12:1–4; 1 Kings 21). To what hard conditions a borrower might subject himself we discover in the cases of the prophet’s widow (2 Kings 4:1); the Jews of Nehemiah’s day (Neh. 5:1, etc.); and in our Lord’s parable of the unmerciful servant, a story which may very well have been founded upon fact (Matt. 18:25–29).

Application.—Wealth must needs impart influence and power. But it purchases no rights inconsistent with the Christian law of love. Let the rule it confers be regarded as a rule of order not of pride, caprice, or selfishness. Nay, let it be used as a talent of which account is to be given; so may it tend to the well-being and happiness of the more dependent class. The poor man may, however, preserve an honorable spirit of independence even while occupying a subordinate position to the rich. But the man who takes to borrowing, not as an exceptional and temporary measure in an unlooked-for strait, but as a device for living beyond his means, sacrifices his independence. He ceases to be his own master. The delicate bloom of self-respect is worn off. Another has the upper hand of him—a creditor whom he may have to supplicate for “patience.” The habit becomes demoralizing, and no amount of loan or of patience will at last set him free. Moreover, it is hardly possible for his soul to grow in grace whose lower life is steeped in the gross element of a debtor’s carking cares. And as it is morally a vice, so is it economically a blunder. The workman who borrows from his employer becomes a slave to the capitalist. The shopkeeper’s habitual debtor excludes himself from the cheaper market. A little makes the difference between him who borrows and him who pays his way, but the difference made is very great. Shall I then sell my liberty to feed my luxury? Or shall I not prefer to be my own master even with a very little? Shall I, to shirk facing one difficulty, plunge myself into a still worse one? No, let me have faith that they who wait on the Lord shall be enabled to renew their strength. Let me aim as far as possible to owe no man anything—but love (Rom. 13:8).

August 21st

He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity: and the rod of his anger shall fail.”—22:8 (11:18).

Interpretation.—This saying may be connected with the foregoing, in which case the “iniquity” referred to is the abuse of power by the rich. Or it may mean, more generally, wrong and oppression wrought by one against another. Such seed will produce a corresponding crop. He who inflicts injury, loss, and disappointment, shall come in time to suffer the like himself. The rod of his authority which in his hands has turned into a rod of anger, shall be wrested from them. Abused power shall not last.

Illustrations.—Such was the case with the tyrannical Pharaoh who oppressed God’s people more and more wrathfully until God took the despot’s scepter from him. So with Sennacherib, employed as a rod by Jehovah to chastise Israel and Judah (Isa. 10:5, etc.), even as Nebuchadnezzar was (Jer. 51:20), when his work was done “in the fury of his power,” that power was made to fail. Haman, that descendant of Agag, that boastful enemy of the Lord’s people, how did “the rod of his fury” rebound upon his own head!

Application.—No law of God’s providence is more certain than this, “to every seed his own body” (1 Cor. 15:38). It is, moreover, a part of His moral law that “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Crops must be according to the seed sown; thistledown will not yield wheat. He then who, in the plenitude of his wealth and power, takes advantage to his hurt of a poorer or weaker neighbor will find his temporary triumph turn to disappointment and vexation. Or, it may be, a similar oppression will overtake him at the hands of one mightier than himself. So it was with Ahab and Jezebel, who paid in blood for the neighbor’s vineyard they had purchased at the cost of his blood. Authority is given to man over his fellows to be exercised for the benefit of society. A rod, yea, a sword, may be put into his hands to be wielded as “a terror to evil-doers,” for the correction of vice and crime (Rom. 13:4). But woe to him who misuses either for the gratification of his own passions, to the sovereign who plays the tyrant, to the unjust and merciless judge, to the parent who for his own pleasure provokes his children to wrath, to the neighbor who smites another “with the fist of wickedness”! They shall forfeit their power, and themselves be smitten of God (Acts 23:3).

O Thou who art the source of all power, give me grace to use what power Thou entrustest me with, as one that must give an account!

August 22nd

He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor.”—22:9 (11:25).

Interpretation.—A bountiful or “good” eye is the opposite to an “evil” or grudging eye (23:6). The man who has it looks kindly, is good-hearted, shows himself benevolent. For he gives of his own portion, the meat appointed for himself, to the poor who cannot give to him again. Moreover, he gives it with a kindly, sympathizing countenance, which enhances the gift. And for this he shall be blessed with “the blessing of him that was ready to perish” (Job 29:13), and “recompensed (by God) at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14).

Illustrations.—Job, in his self-defense, disclaimed the having eaten his morsel alone without sharing it with the fatherless (ch. 31:17), in whose blessing he rejoiced. David’s considerate kindness to the Egyptian slave was the means of his own signal success (1 Sam. 30:11–20). Nehemiah entertained daily at his own table a hundred and fifty Jews, besides heathen neighbors, out of pure bountifulness (Neh. 5:17). He had a large heart, such as his great work required, and God blessed him in it.

Application.—It is impossible to read the Scriptures and not be impressed with the promises attached to bountifulness. Were these only credited, how much more of misery would be alleviated, how many more would be made happy! Such a character, as a reflex of God’s (Ps. 145:16), must approve itself to Him in a very high degree. Hence it is said to conciliate His mercy (Dan. 4:27; Matt. 25:34–39). But do I really understand what bountifulness is? The proverb shows that it is more than the mere giving of alms such as can easily be spared, to the poor. It is giving at a sacrifice to one’s self. It is giving as an act of personal gratification. It is giving with cheerfulness, ay, with “hilarity” (Rom. 12:8). It is giving with a pleasant countenance and sympathizing manner. The heart looks out at the eyes. At the same time (we may assume), it is giving with judgment and discrimination such as involve thought and trouble. Now, whether my means be small or great, I may thus be bountiful. And so to be is not only to deal happiness around, but to go the sure way to be myself happy, to enjoy “a continual feast.” The good, kind man is the genuine epicure. Moreover, mercy begets mercy at the hands of one’s fellow-men. Mercy in the case of a truly kind and charitable man rejoices against judgment. Even in the final judgment acts of bounty and compassion will be put to the good account of the Christian philanthropist.

August 23rd

Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease.”—22:10 (21:24).

Interpretation.—“The scorner” is (as before explained) the sceptic or freethinker as regards religion. But, from a social point of view, he is one given to malicious “gibes, and jests, and irony.” The advice is to “chase away,” get rid of out of your society such a one, so that the contention which his offensive tongue is sure to breed may go out with him, and the “dispeace” and disgrace involved thereby may cease.

Illustrations.—Ishmael, with God’s sanction, was “cast out” of Abraham’s family for mocking Isaac, not in mere boyish playfulness, but in a cruel, persecuting spirit (Gal. 4:29). Hymenæus and Alexander, probably Gnostic freethinkers, in the days of the Apostles, were excommunicated (and even more) by St. Paul, for their own good and the peace of the Church (1 Tim. 1:20).

Application.—There are men upon whom all argument and appeal to good feeling are thrown away. Especially are they impervious to threats and warnings, even such as are inspired. Their pastime is to turn all into ridicule. They are supercilious scorners of all but their own opinions. They cannot restrain their sarcasms, though by these others are wounded more painfully than by blows. They are fomenters of strife and division, a very canker-worm in the flowers and fruit of social life. If associated with Church members in any way, their scorn of authority and wildness of opinion make them very firebrands. Such men the Apostle may have had in his mind when he wrote, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18). It is not possible consistently with the interests of society and of religion. Their association only breeds contention, strife, and consequent reproach. Bold and open rebuke, though administered in love, seldom fails to exasperate them the more. They are Jonahs, who must be “cast out” ere the sea can cease from its raging. Yet though cast out, they need not be cast off. We should still pray for them, if, maybe, such stern measures may win them to God and so to a humble mind. But if impossible to cast them out of our circle, then we must bear with them, as Jesus “endured the contradiction of sinners,” as David dwelt with the enemies of peace in Mesech (Ps. 120:6). Haply they will be touched by meek endurance combined with loyalty to our own principles. If not, let us turn from them to our God and lay our appeal before Him. Never let us return railing with railing.

Oh, far from me be that scornful spirit so hateful both to God and man! Mine be that “meekness of wisdom” which becomes one called to be a saint!

August 24th (F. St. Bartholomew.)

Every man shall kiss his lips that giveth a right answer.”—24:26.

Interpretation.—The renderings of this proverb vary. Our Authorized Version, by inserting the words “every man” and “his,” make the author of “a right answer” the recipient of a “kiss,” in other words, of favor, popularity, reverence. In this sense it applies primarily to those who judge or decide matters (vv. 23–25), but also to all who have the art (natural or acquired) of giving an apposite and satisfactory answer to a question proposed. But the text, without these interpolations, means rather “he that giveth a right answer shall kiss lips,” i.e. of his hearers, shall approve himself to their judgment and gain their hearts. Whichever rendering we accept, commendation of an appropriate reply is the gist of the saying.

Illustrations.—Absalom, by his gift of speech, so won the hearts of his father’s subjects as to steal away their loyalty. Solomon, by his famous judgment, at once conciliated the respect and loyalty of his subjects (1 Kings 3:28). “A greater than Solomon” won the hearts of the people, and struck awe into His adversaries by the “gracious” and convincing words that fell from His lips (Luke 4:22; John 7:46). His Apostle St. Bartholomew (whom we may assume to have been Nathanael) gave an answer which kissed the lips of the Nazarene whom he owned as Messiah (John 1:49); and to Nathanael how rightly had Philip responded when he said, “Come and see!”

Application.—Who has not experienced the thrill of genuine pleasure which a pellucid argument, a concise summing-up of evidence, an unanswerable decision, imparts? We at once do homage in our hearts to the wisdom, talent, equity of the judicial mind whence such proceeded. So, too, in mere private intercourse, the terse, epigrammatic reply, or the pointed, conclusive resolution of a question proposed—how do these fit, as it were, like a kiss to the lips of the interrogator, while they invest the speaker with an attractive halo! More especially is this the case when some precious truth of religion is involved. But is it given to all to employ the faculty of speech so happily? Doubtless, natural talent contributes to this power. But it was grace which opened the lips of Philip and Nathanael. And may I not hope for the same, if rightly sought, to give me the “word in season”? I may, indeed, and, if so sought, I shall be preserved from the mistake of courting popularity by saying rather what will please than what is true. Of this let me be sure, that the right answer alone will obtain favor in the end. For an answer given only to please, the lips may be blessed now, but they will be cursed hereafter.

Oh for wisdom and love to speak so as to please, not man only, but God!

August 25th

The eyes of the Lord preserve knowledge, and He overthroweth the words of the transgressor.”—22:12.

Interpretation.—God’s providential and fatherly care both preserves the knowledge of Himself in the world and in the heart; and also those who, having that knowledge, speak as they know. But the words of the transgressor and his dealings by which he would overthrow the truth, are all overthrown of God (21:12).

Illustrations.—The truth in Micaiah’s mouth (so bravely uttered) was brought to pass, while Zedekiah, its shameless opponent, was proved a liar (1 Kings 22). God preserved the knowledge of Himself in the world by raising up Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham; by giving the law, through Moses, to His peculiar people; by protecting a book of that law, so that, on the eve of perishing out of the land, it should be resuscitated (2 Chron. 34:14–18) and handed down to posterity (Rom. 3:2). The sacred canon of the New Testament has been equally under His guardian care to the present time—preserved against attempts to suppress, destroy, adulterate, and overthrow it. Its very opponents have frustrated one another’s schemes and refuted one another’s words.

Application.—Is it not good to know of a special Providence watching over the truth? For now I need never be afraid to speak it, leaving the issues in God’s hands. Nor need I fear for truths handed down by His holy Church that they will ever be allowed to perish. They may, indeed, be scouted far and wide as unpopular with the world. They may have many “hard” words written and spoken against them. The unrighteous effort may be made to put them down by judge-made law, and by haling their supporters to prison. But He who has promised that “the gates of hell shall not prevail” against His Church will “show Himself strong in behalf of” the men of knowledge (2 Chron. 16:9). He will defeat the counsels of unjust men, and turn them to their own confusion. Let me not shrink from ranging myself on the weakest side if truth (as I believe) be with them. For, surely, God’s “testimonies are founded for ever” (Ps. 119:152), and must prevail against “great swelling words of vanity” (2 Pet. 2:18). The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and watch for good over the man whose lips and conversation are regulated by true knowledge—knowledge of Himself—over religious truth. Infidels have predicted in every age the overthrow of what they term “old wives’ fables,” what we prize as revelation. But their own predictions have been overthrown, while Christianity stands firm upon the rock.

So let all Thine enemies perish, O Lord: but let them that love Him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might” (Judg. 5:31)!

August 26th

The mouth of strange women is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the Lord shall fall therein.”—22:14 (23:27) (or vide p. 186).

Interpretation.—The “strange woman” of Scripture is a harlot, since her loathsome trade was plied among the people of Israel to a great extent by foreigners. Her “mouth” signifies the blandishments of her lips, both words and kisses. By these she allures men so that they fall, as it were, into a deep snare-pit. The fact that they fall therein proves that, for a time at least, they are “abhorred” (the opposite to “blessed”) of the Lord, and, by reason of some former sin or sinful state of mind, deprived of His restraining grace.

Illustrations.—Solomon here speaks from his own sad experience. After a promising commencement of his reign, he took a false step, perhaps from motives of policy, in marrying a heathen princess. And then he proceeded to build up a harem which at last comprised hundreds of “strange women,” courtesans, to whom he “clave in love.” These “turned away his heart” (1 Kings 11:1–3). A judicial blindness seems to have fallen upon him, and God, who had been his friend, became his adversary (1 Kings 11:14). Nay, is it not more than probable that on account of some heart-sin he was allowed thus to fall (as David before, and Hezekiah after him), till he should know what was in his heart (2 Chron. 32:31), and, it may be, surrender himself wholly unto the Lord?

Application.—The sin here again alluded to is far too common to be passed over. Holy Scripture is plain-spoken enough upon the subject, and for parents or pastors to ignore it were a cruel reticence. Young men are here warned against the arts of the seductress. For that seduction is at least as often on one side as the other is beyond a doubt. The “mouth” is the instrument of temptation. Let fond words and tentative endearments be allowed, and a fall is imminent if not certain. Safety lies only in retreat. But the root of the evil is in the heart, and to that must the axe be laid. Wanton thoughts, pride, self-confidence, neglect of the means of grace, ay, and heretical notions (Art. XVII.), often pave the way to this sin. Abandoning God, the soul is abandoned of Him, and, alas! if for ever—lost! Let me never lose sight of the fact, that favor with such women must needs be disfavor with a pure and holy God. Let me bear in mind that poverty, disease, infamy, death, hell, follow hard upon such associations. Let me ever cherish a deep distrust of self, and pray that the bridle of restraining grace may never fall from my mouth!

August 27th

Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”—22:15 (23:13; 29:15) (or vide p. 187).

Interpretation.—By “foolishness” is to be understood, as usual in this Book, more than mere childish folly. The inbred sin of our corrupt nature is meant, as opposed to true “wisdom,” or religion, which is its only corrective. The “rod” signifies chastisement of whatever kind, as employed among other means for correction, in order to expel evil dispositions and habits. The heavenly Father wields such a rod, and it is put into the earthly father’s hands to be used in like manner.

Illustrations.—That “little children” may evince great wickedness of heart is shown by the case of those who came forth to mock Elisha (2 Kings 2:23). They were ready to follow the example of older ones upon whom God’s judgment fell, for the “children” (ver. 24) who were destroyed by bears were “youths” not “little children,” a distinction which is marked in the Hebrew. It may be hoped this terrible warning before the eyes of the younger ones would prove a correction of their foolishness, so that, like the children of a later age, they would learn to welcome instead of mocking at the Lord’s messenger (Matt. 21:15).

Application.—Solomon has been often quoted as an advocate for the use of “the rod.” But it is not “the rod” only he commends. This is evident from the result he promises both here and elsewhere (23:14). Mere chastisement more often than not intensifies the evil it affects to cure. There is no virtue in bodily pain to heal a moral ailment. No soul is likely to be saved from hell by tyrannical and passionate inflictions. For how can Satan cast out Satan? Nor will the “chains of sin” which bind the human heart fly off at the touch of a prayerless parent’s hand. No, there must be the deep conviction through self-knowledge that sin is our common birthright, that corruption is woven into our nature, in the warp and woof too (Isa. 1:18); not found only in the heart, but bound there; and that Jesus came to save us from our sins. Then with trembling prayer and yearning love the Christian parent will commence the education of the child for God “betimes.” Then he will treat that redeemed and regenerated soul as a precious jewel not to be roughly handled, nor yet left uncut. Prayer will take hardness out of the correction without diminishing its virtue. Then the child will know itself corrected, not for sportiveness, but for sin. And then by example and all good influences added to discipline, with prayer, the expulsion of the evil principle may be looked for.

August 28th

The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets.”—22:13 (26:13).

Interpretation.—A satire this upon the excuses made to justify sloth. It is supposed to be early dawn when “man goeth forth to his work and to his labor” (Ps. 104:3). But the sluggard is too comfortable in bed to start up as soon as called. So he casts about for an excuse, and takes the first that comes to hand, ridiculous as it is. He has heard that a lion is somewhere about in the neighborhood, and how should he risk his precious life? Or, if not by the lion, is there not a danger of being slain by some other marauder in the streets? Satisfied with having found a reason, without waiting to hear it refuted, he turns in his bed, and composes himself anew to sleep. The irony of this proverb extends to all phantom dangers conjured up and turned into excuses for shirking labor by the indolent.

Illustrations.—The unbelieving spies found a pretext for dissuading from the conquest of Canaan in the giants their eyes had seen (Numb. 13:27–33). Jonah, anticipating evil, fled from his duty. The slothful servant in the parable feigned to himself an unreasonable master as a plea for lazy disobedience.

Application.—Who does not know how fertile in excuses the mind is apt to be when the time for rising early on a dark, cold morning has arrived? We conjure up lions then, and they grow more formidable every moment. Yet, on sober reflection afterwards, it is found that we have deceived ourselves, not others. The habit, if indulged, will generate a slothful, cowardly spirit, affecting our interests unfavorably. We shall shrink from coping with difficulties, which will overcome us in consequence. We shall dwindle into pigmies from being men. Our worldly prospects will suffer, and scorn be our portion. The sluggard’s prophecy makes many a false prophet. And as regards the spiritual life, such dreamy inertness will ruin any soul. Only they who “wrestle” will enter into the kingdom of heaven (Luke 13:24). To win the crown we must first run the race. To run the race the body must be kept under (1 Cor. 9:24–27). Let me think of this when disposed to invent or magnify objections to early rising for Holy Communion with my Lord. Let me not, for fear of a lion without, be slain by the lion within. Have I forgotten the promise of guardian angels made to those who walk in the ways of God? Is it not my privilege to tread upon the lion, yea, to trample the young lion under feet (Ps. 91:11, 13)? Pondering the terms of discipleship, I find that I must incur dangers, but that while “he that loveth his life shall lose it, he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (John 12:25).

August 29th

Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul.”—22:24, 25.

Interpretation.—This “counsel” is one of the “words of the wise” (ver. 17), which form a kind of appendix to the foregoing “proverbs.” We are exhorted not to enter into friendship with a choleric man and not to consort with a furious man. The terms are very strong in the original; the first meaning (literally) “an owner of rage,” the second, a regular hothead. The reason given is remarkable. Not on account of the injury such a comrade may do one in a worldly point of view; but for the injury one is sure to suffer in his own character, the peril to his own soul.

Illustrations.—Rehoboam, consorting with hotheaded young men, was spurred on to acts of folly injurious to himself in his relations towards man and God (1 Kings 12:14, 21). Ahab took to himself a wife whose temper “stirred up” his to deeds of blood and shame (1 Kings 21:25). Jehoshaphat, connecting himself with Ahab, became involved in his peril and disgrace (2 Chron. 18:31). Amnon had a wicked friend, who encouraged him to gratify his lust (2 Sam. 13:3, etc.). The mob at Ephesus excited one another to a display of singular folly (Acts 19:32, 34).

Application.—Friendship, one of the best of Heaven’s boons to man, may yet be so perverted as to become a curse. In proportion to the powerful nature of its inter-relations should we be careful in its formation. For spirit has a marvelous and unaccountable influence upon spirit, so that we are apt to imbibe the spirit of those with whom we become intimately associated. I may soon “learn ways” from a companion which I may ever afterwards wish, but vainly, to unlearn. Thus, a friend whose attractive and good qualities are really neutralized by an uncontrollable temper, may so dazzle me by the first as to lead me to think lightly of or even fall to imitating his fault. Or he may spoil my temper by his frequent irritability. Or he may involve me in his frequent quarrels. Whether so or not, perpetual contact with any kind of indulged sin must be always hurtful to the spirit, and a snare to the soul. One fire will kindle another. Habit becomes second nature. It is easier to learn anger than meekness. We convey disease, not health. Let me then form friendship only with those who will help, not hinder me in the Christian life. Such friendships are not only safest, but sweetest. They become, as it were, “a covert from the tempest,” instead of a temple of the winds. They soothe the spirit instead of chafing it, and prepare for that abode of perfect friendship whose very atmosphere is love.

August 30th

Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.”—22:28 (23:10, 11).

Interpretation.—The possession of land in Israel was secured by severe penalties to be inflicted on him who removed the landmark. One of the curses of Mount Ebal was directed against this sin. Even a bought piece of ground was to return to its original possessor at the year of jubilee. That these laws were infringed is certain; the tendency to greed of acquisition—to adding land to land—would assert itself. The year of jubilee was allowed to fall into abeyance. Hence the double warning of the wise king was not unneeded. And though he meant it only in its literal sense, it has been and may be figuratively applied as a “counsel” against rashly or insidiously changing the ancient laws and customs, whether of Church or State (Deut. 19:14; 27:17; Hos. 5:10; Lev. 25:13; 2 Chron. 36:21).

Illustrations.—When Naboth solemnly refused to give or sell the inheritance of his fathers to the king, this was no churlish refusal, but in obedience to the divine law, which forbade an Israelite to alienate his paternal inheritance. And Ahab, by ruthlessly taking possession of it, violated this law, and entailed upon himself and his posterity a fearful retribution (1 Kings 21).

Application.—God has constituted Himself the protector of the unprotected. Hence, to encroach ever so little upon their rights is to beard the Almighty, and enlist against the usurper His mercy as well as His justice. Every inch of land, every fraction of money, acquired unjustly, has His curse upon it. A poor man’s livelihood is his life. God therefore, who loves to pay oppressors in their own coin, will have life for life. But more, the precept is violated in spirit by encroachments upon the rights and privileges of the subject, on the Churchman as secured by charters unrepealed, when these are not opposed to God’s Word. The Church has suffered alike from a morbid apprehensiveness of change and a restless craving for it. Either is to be avoided. Traditional error cannot be transmuted by the alchemy of time into truth. On the other hand, whatever is new in theology is wrong. Our own reformers carefully guarded themselves against being supposed to forsake or reject either doctrines or ceremonies held by the ancient Church (Canon XXX.). To adhere to this principle is a duty she owes to God and to her children. My care should be to inquire diligently what is the true antiquity, and to follow their testimony who retain that which has the genuine stamp. But always “holding the truth in love.” And this, if a true worshipper, I shall be able to do; for as worship rises to heaven, justice radiates on earth. If faith go foremost charity will follow.

August 31st

Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings: he shall not stand before mean men.”—22:29 (12:24).

Interpretation.—“Expert” or “expeditious” would be a better rendering than “diligent.” Of such a man it is easy to foretell that he shall rise. The phrase “stand before” signifies that he shall be engaged in the service of kings, or at least of men eminent in their own department (1 Kings 10:8; 12:6; 1 Sam. 16:21). His abilities when once discerned shall not be wasted on undertakings to which the obscure and unknown are adequate.

Illustrations.—His prowess in the battle-field, and other singular gifts, soon recommended David to the favorable notice of Saul and of Jonathan. In like manner, Jeroboam’s energy attracted the favor of Solomon, who at once advanced him to a post of authority. Joseph, Nehemiah, and Daniel rose in like manner through their aptitude for business. The servant (in the parable) who was faithful in a very little had much more authority committed to him. “The elders” in the Church “that rule well (are to) be counted worthy of double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17).

Application.—It is well for kings and those in authority to have their eye upon men of unusual activity and dispatch. For one great secret of good government is the appointment of fit persons to fill the State offices. And, equally is it an advantage to men of the less exalted class to acquire such habits as shall fit them for posts of responsibility. Expedition in carrying out their commands is the ability which in a subject is most acceptable to a king, and in its degree this applies to any master and his subordinates. Now, the habit of expedition is only to be acquired by doing with all one’s might whatsoever one’s hand findeth to do (Eccles. 9:10). Natural gifts will indeed do something for a man. But, for lack of perseverance, these are often thrown away. Indomitable energy of purpose, however, not seldom makes up for the absence of uncommon talent. The youth should remember this if his ambitious hopes are to prove more than a golden dream. He will be what he makes himself, and that only. Now, if this be so in regard to worldly advancement, how can it be otherwise where spiritual achievements are aimed at? He only who gives his whole heart and strength to God’s work, can hope to rise to glory, and to stand before the King of kings. Nobleness of condition is not essential as a school for nobility of character, but men who are not noble are called to be trained in Christ’s school for ministries of blessing to the world.[1]

 

 

[1] Pearson, C. R. (1881). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 2, pp. 32–62). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)

September

September 1st

When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee: and put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful meat.”—23:1–3.

Interpretation.—The “counsel” is to do violence to a fastidious or immoderate appetite, specially at the table of a man of higher rank and greater power than one’s self. Consider well what is before thee, i.e. under whose watchful eye thou art sitting; or (as some critics think) have thy wits about thee, lest thou appropriate any dish specially reserved for the great man. And do violence to, yea, as it were, stab thine own appetite rather than incur his displeasure by indulging too freely, however thine inclination may prompt thee. For his motive in offering thee dainties may not be wholly kind; an occult and sinister purpose may lurk in his proffered hospitality, and turn his viands into “bread of lies.”

Illustrations.—Esau was a man given to appetite, and even his father Isaac would appear to have been not altogether blameless in this respect. Holy Scripture, however, affords no exact illustration of the case in point. But there are two proverbial sayings (one of Persian origin) which exactly express the danger here intimated: “Whoever eats of the sultan’s soup sooner or later burns his lips.” And, “One must come near to a king as to a fire: not too near, lest he be burned; not too remote, so that he may be warmed therewith.”

Application.—Worldly prudence may enforce strict temperance at the table of one whose cordiality I distrust, or whose malevolence is to be feared. But, as a Christian, shall not a higher motive govern me? At a table spread with delicacies shall I not “consider diligently” in whose Presence I am, and be restrained from immoderate self-indulgence by thoughts of Him whose blessing I have just invoked upon my meal? To use the good creatures of God may be lawful, but to hanker after them is dangerous. I may make provision for wants, not for lusts. To dip into dainties too much will impede my soul in its upward flight, as when the feet of a winged insect are immersed in mud. Are not those “deceitful dainties” which while they please the body affront the nobler part of man? Ought I not further to “consider” the company with whom I sit, and what effect upon their minds the spectacle of a professed Christian behaving like an epicure is likely to produce? A communicant’s conduct is marked, ay, sometimes put to the test, by fellow-guests and servants. I profess the faith of Christ. I aim at spirituality. Let me add to my faith temperance (2 Pet. 1:6). Let me “eat and drink,” not as though my god were my belly (Phil. 3:19), but to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

September 2nd

Labor not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make to themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.”—23:4, 5.

Interpretation.—Not honest, creditable, conscientious labor is here forbidden. But the wear and tear, the moiling and toiling of those who “make haste to be rich,” and “labor for the meat that perisheth” to the neglect of “that which endureth unto everlasting life” (John 6:27). Thus to labor is the dictate of our own wisdom, from which we are required to “cease;” to combat that prudential spirit which tends to covetousness, seeing we are on the way to a higher wisdom which is of God. And this the rather, inasmuch as to set the eyes upon riches is to long for even to the pursuing a nonentity, an illusion. For in time they will surely elude our grasp, and like an eagle, fly beyond recall (Hos. 9:11), returning to Him who gives and who takes away (Job 1:21).

Illustrations.—Lot, who had too much set his heart upon wealth, lost his all in one day. The rich man (in the parable) whose heart was satisfied (or seemed so) with his accumulations, is convicted as “thou fool,” when at a moment’s notice compelled to give up all.

Application.—The greatest wealth is contentment with a little. A competency may, indeed, be sought in prayer as well as by labor (30:8). But to weary after more than this becomes a snare to the soul (1 Tim. 6:9). And if more be thus attained, how unreal the gain, how sure the loss! For riches may leave us at any time, and we must leave them at some time. Fugitiveness and decay are inherent in their nature; “they make to themselves wings.” Sometimes these wings grow gradually, and ruin’s approach is watched with sickening heart. Or else, a sudden vanishing of all we held so dear reveals to us its instability. Shall I then fasten my eyes with longing gaze or with hawk-like avidity upon such fleeting treasures? Shall I occupy my mind with the ways and means of securing them? Is this worthy even of a philosophy which teaches that “nothing can be called great, to despise which is great”? Is this consistent with a religion which pronounces the estate of poverty “blessed” (Luke 6:20), and would have its disciples lay up treasure in heaven rather than upon earth? Is this in accordance with Christian experience that “it is no easy thing to carry a full cup with an even hand”?

O my God, give me to seek and obtain “the true riches,” whose wings shall carry me to heaven!

September 3rd

Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats: for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee. The morsel which thou, hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words.”—23:6–8.

Interpretation.—This caution is not identical with that already considered (vv. 1–3). The hazard here indicated is with a man who hath “an evil eye.” Such a one is the opposite to a man with a “bountiful eye” (22:9). A covetous, penurious, stingy, grudging character is meant. Beware of accepting an invitation to his table, still more of inviting thyself. For though he may affect hospitality, he is not what he seems. Ostensibly he presses his dainties upon thee, but all the while he is grudging every morsel, and reckoning it up against thee as a debt. As soon as thou detectest his true character, how wilt thou loathe the thought of having tasted his viands, and regret having wasted upon him friendly and complimentary words!

Illustrations.—The murderous hypocrisy of Absalom imparted a ghastly complexion to the entertainment he gave to his brother Amnon. Simon’s proffered hospitality to Jesus was marred by its grudging character, and by the “evil eye” with which he watched his Guest (Luke 7:39, 44–46). The wretched Judas partook of the same table with his Master, and joined in St. Peter’s declaration of attachment to Him (Mark 14:31), while, with the pledge of friendship in his mouth, he resolved on treachery (John 13:30).

Application.—Wisdom from above is needed for discernment of character. Let me pray for it continually, that I be not the dupe of designing and wicked men. Even in the acceptance of hospitality caution is requisite. A false friend may prove the greatest of enemies. To put myself under obligations to such a one may embitter some portion of my life. For my own part let me loathe that social hypocrisy which is of the essence of worldliness. For all unreality is displeasing to Him Who requires “truth in the inward parts.” Nor can any imposture succeed with Him Whose Eyes are as a flame of fire. “A poor man is better than a liar,” and a dinner of herbs with cordiality far better than a feast begrudged. As I would have others to me, let me be to them. I love a frank and generous spirit, a warm grasp of the hand, a hospitable welcome. But he who would have friends must show himself friendly. Manners, however deceptive, will only impose for a time. To the criterion of acts I shall be brought by my fellow-men. And never let me forget that, in God’s sight, as I think in my heart so am I!

September 4th

Speak not in the ears of a fool: for he will despise the wisdom of thy words.”—23:9 (9:7, 8).

Interpretation.—The “fool” here is one intellectually and spiritually stupid. To give good advice to such is (as a rule) to throw it away. Nay, more, it is to cast pearls before swine, who will not only trample them underfoot, but turn again and rend you (Matt. 7:6).

Illustrations.—“Nabal” is the Hebrew word here employed for “fool,” and the husband of Abigail was “as his name,” “such a son of Belial, that a man (could) not speak to him” (1 Sam. 25:17, 25). The prophet, knowing that Amaziah was one whom God having determined to destroy had allowed to become stultified, forbore to counsel him (2 Chron. 25:16). The blessed Jesus did not condescend to answer Herod, an obtuse sensualist, nor to vindicate His innocence before Caiaphas who had predetermined His death (Matt. 26:63; John 11:50). St. Paul, following divine counsel (Matt. 10:14), habitually turned from those who had not the hearing ear (Acts 13:46; 18:6; 28:25, 26).

Application.—The “counsel” is given to wise men—to those who have discernment and spiritual understanding (1 Cor. 10:15). There is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Eccles. 3:7). There are those to whom “it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.” There are others “to whom it is not given” (Matt. 13:11). “Holy things are for holy persons,” not for “dogs,” not for those who will snarl at and defile them. If I myself by God’s grace have “learned Christ,” I must needs yearn over such as are still Christless. My compassion will prompt me to speak to them those words of wisdom which may win their hearts to Him. And, truly, there may be circumstances under which it is my duty so to speak “whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear” (Ezek. 2:7). I may be right in urging the gospel message without special regard to the seasonableness of the occasion (2 Tim. 4:2). It may be my only opportunity. I shall at least have delivered my own soul. Yet, let me ask for discretion as well as zeal, lest scornful rejection of my efforts increase and multiply guilt, lest my Savior be wounded even in the house of His friends (Zech. 13:6). On the whole, the rule is good—not to be so silent as to betray the truth, and not so to speak as to give advantage for cavils. But we are nowhere cautioned against excess of fervor in the Bible. Whereas, lukewarmness is condemned by the Head of the Church Himself as what He detests (Rev. 3:15, 16). Therefore, if I err, let it be rather in saying too much than too little for the soul’s good of a brother. But that I err not—

Grant me, O Holy Spirit, “a right judgment” to know when to speak and when to be silent!

September 5th

Enter not into the fields of the fatherless: for their Redeemer is mighty; He shall plead their cause with thee.”—23:10, 11 (22:23, 28).

Interpretation.—This “counsel” is an amplification of a former one. The addition is very striking. The fatherless are represented as God’s especial care. And the heartless usurper who should venture to appropriate any portion of their inheritance, counting upon their unprotected condition, will have to face a mighty Champion of their rights. The “goel” was the nearest kinsman upon whom it devolved by law (Numb. 35:19) to avenge a homicide. But his office came to extend to other duties, and amongst these to the redemption of an inheritance lost or despoiled. Hence the term “Redeemer” is here applied to the Almighty One acting on behalf of despoiled orphans; and it is said of Him, with reference to the oppressor, “He will conduct their cause against thee.”

Illustrations.—Job’s quasi-friends felt bound to suppose that he must have committed grievous crimes, and amongst them they took care to mention oppression of the fatherless (ch. 22:5–10). He, on his part, expressly defended himself from that charge (ch. 29:12; 31:17, 21), and named the removing the landmarks as among the worst of crimes (ch. 24:2, etc.). Boaz acted the part of “goel” when he took the orphaned and widowed Ruth under his protection (Ruth 3:12).

Application.—Widows and orphans are the feeblest class of the community. They must needs be dependent upon others to secure their property to them, and a dishonest executor or trustee may easily do them wrong. Hence, God has constituted Himself their special protector, and threatens with His mighty vengeance the man who takes a cruel advantage of them (Ps. 10:14, 17; 68:6; Mal. 3:5). For though the institution of the “goel” may no longer exist, the principle is as binding as ever. The nearest of kin is bound to take up the cause of a widowed or orphaned relative. Should he neglect or be powerless so to do, will not He Who has become our kinsman by assuming human flesh come forward in behalf of the oppressed one, and who shall withstand Him? God is not the God of the Jews only. His character has not changed. His love, His justice and mercy both, are enlisted on the side of injured innocence. He Himself is affronted by any unfair advantage taken of those who are under His protection. Well then may the unscrupulous tremble to touch the property of His clients! Well may they commit themselves to Him who has proved Himself “mighty to save”!

September 6th

Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old.”—23:22 (19:26; 30:17).

Interpretation.—To “hearken to” is equivalent to obeying (Ps. 81:9; 95:7). The fact of his paternity gives a father a claim to his children’s attention. Age and infirmities ought to increase rather than diminish the respect shown to a mother. The precept is obviously addressed to children who are grown up.

Illustrations.—The good men of old were eminently dutiful to their parents. Thus, Isaac submitted meekly to Abraham at an age when he might easily have resisted or protested against his will. Jacob (unlike his brother) respected his parents’ wishes concerning marriage. Joseph, from boyhood to old age, showed reverence and devotion to his father. The attachment of Ruth to a mother-in-law was the more pleasing, as such relations are usually difficult. Amid the grandeur of royalty, how becoming was Solomon’s reverential treatment of his mother! The Rechabites felt bound by the injunctions laid upon them of a sire deceased. The Son of God Himself set an example of filial piety, even in His last agonies.

Application.—Were human nature not corrupted, it would be only natural to treat those to whom (under God) we owe life with habitual tenderness and submission. As it is, though law demands it of us (Exod. 20:20; Lev. 19:32), and that law was fortified by judgments which plainly declared the mind of God (Deut. 21:18–21; 27:16), how rare comparatively is filial duty in families! We may not wonder that its absence (though not universal) forms one of the features of heathen depravity (Rom. 1:30). But disobedience to parents among Christians is announced as one of the signs of the last days, and they are styled “perilous times” in consequence (2 Tim. 3:2). Do we not see the fulfilment of this with our own eyes? The grown-up sons and daughters of this generation—how soon have they emancipated themselves, not only from parental control, but even from the duty of listening to the advice of the experienced father or mother! In some cases this is due to the influence of bad company (ver. 20). In other cases to natural headiness and high-mindedness, not corrected by grace. Too often, alas! to glaring faults and defects in the parents themselves. But nothing can excuse undutifulness on a child’s part; and nothing is more lovely than the opposite virtue in the grown-up son and daughter, a virtue which in an adult can only be the result of principle, not of fear.

“Father of spirits” may I give reverence to my earthly father, and be in subjection also unto Thee (Heb. 12:9)!

September 7th

Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.”—23:23 (4:5, 7; 16:16).

Interpretation.—Omitting the “also,” which is not found in the original, we have “truth” divided into its three component parts, any one of which may stand as its synonym. The injunction is to secure it at any price, and, having so done, never for any consideration to part with it again.

Illustrations.—God’s revelation of Himself and of His will is the truth which it concerns all men most of all to obtain and then hold fast. For “this is life eternal” (John 17:3). Abraham and Moses secured this—the one at the price of Egypt’s treasures, the other at the cost of a home. The Apostles left all to follow Jesus, who is “the Truth,” God’s latest revelation of Himself to man. None of these men ever gave up their God, but endured much for their religion’s sake. Esau, Judas, Demas, on the other hand, are examples of men who renounced the truth (sold it, so to speak) for one worldly consideration or another. And as for Herod, he could not buy it at the price of his sensuality, nor could the young ruler at the price of his great possessions, nor could Agrippa at the price of his self-indulgence. The Eastern Magi set a noble example of following on to know the Lord.

Application.—Truth should be the aim of every thinking being. To attain this, education at a cost is given; and self-education often follows at a cost still greater—of painful laboriousness. Exact scientific conclusions are the aim of many a student’s life. And one of the greatest of our philosophers (Bacon) has said, adopting the sentiment of the text, that riches should be applied to get learning, rather than learning to acquire riches. How much more true is this of that learning which outshines all earthly treasures—the knowledge of God as revealed in His dear Son! This, though freely given, must in one sense be bought, since to grasp the gift involves effort and self-denial; yea, the surrender of all a man counts most dear. But is the proffered jewel worthy of such a price? The question is for ever set at rest by the discovery that it is Jesus Himself who cries, “Buy of Me” (Rev. 3:18). Coming direct to Him, and bringing all to His standard, I shall avoid the counterfeit to become possessed of Truth itself. And then I must never, never let it go—not for all this world pretends to give. For what is heaven but full possession of the Truth? And what is hell but Truth discerned too late?

Lord, grant me “in this world knowledge of Thy Truth” at whatever cost to myself, “to have and to hold”!

September 8th

The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him. Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bare thee shall rejoice.”—23:24, 25 (10:1; 15:20; 27:11).

Interpretation.—These words are connected with what has gone before and what follows. They assume obedience to exhortations already given (vv. 20, 23). They invite and encourage to others about to be given (ver. 27, etc.). In ver. 25 the optative sense belongs to the verb, which should be rendered thus: “Let thy father and thy mother be glad,” etc.

Illustrations.—Abraham, by anticipation, rejoiced in Isaac as “the child of promise.” To Zacharias “joy and gladness” were assured in prospect of a son who should be “great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:14, 15). St. Paul had great joy in such spiritual sons as Timothy and Onesimus; even as St. John declared, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 Epist. 4).

Application.—Dutiful and pious attention to the advice of godly parents must needs gladden their heart. And is it not my duty as a son or a daughter to make this requital for the anxiety, toil, and self-denial they have sustained on my account? Were no higher motive at work, this one might well constrain me to a creditable and virtuous life—the thought that thus only I can prove my gratitude to the authors and nurturers of my being. Thus only can I save them from reproach (28:11)—that reproach upon the name of God which a graceless child brings, that charge which the world (however wrongfully) will hurl at the parent’s head of being responsible for a child’s misdoings. Certain it is (however explained) that some of the best and wisest of parents have been disappointed, at least for a time, in the children they have brought up for the Lord; have even been cursed with a child who was incorrigible from its youth up. Where this is the case, it can only be met with prayerful resignation, as one of those mysterious permissions of Providence (perhaps connected with some law unknown) which must be acquiesced in silently. As a rule, however, the result of careful, religious, wise bringing up is far different, and the sowing in tears is repaid by an abundant harvest. Only let parents and teachers alike aim at the heart in their dealings with the young. Let them not “provoke them to wrath” by inconsiderate words or actions; let them be ready to rejoice in their well-doing, “lest they be discouraged” (Col. 3:21). Let them cultivate a discreet companionship with their youthful charge, for to win the affections is half-way towards winning the soul.

September 9th

Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.”—23:29, 30.

Interpretation.—“Woe and grief” may represent the thoughts and the complaints born of vexation. The “sorrow” is that compelled by such consequences of the vice in question, as an exhausted purse, neglected work, anticipated reproaches, diminishing strength. “Contentions” are drunken brawls, “babbling” the foolish, indiscreet, impure talk which men indulge in over their cups (Dan. 5:4). “Redness” (Gen. 49:12) or dimness of eyes points to personal indications of the habit. The sin here held up to reprobation is drinking for drinking’s sake, “adding drunkenness to thirst” (Deut. 29:19), as connoisseurs in search of wines made more stimulating by being as “mixed” or flavored with aromatic spices (Isa. 5:22).

Illustrations.—Who does not think of Lot, though a “righteous man,” “overtaken by” this vile “fault,” and its hideous consequences? Of Nabal and his drunken fit, followed by death? Of Herod, and the bloody termination of his lewd carousals?

Application.—We have here and in what follows a looking-glass for the intemperate. “The love of the Spirit” (Rom. 15:30) is in this faithful description. Were it realized as true of multitudes, who would not desire to save or rescue a brother, a sister, from the vice portrayed? Were the peril of which it warns credited, who would not shrink from the first step in that direction? That peril lies in looking upon the wine-cup—not (as is obvious) with a view to the legitimate refreshment of the wearied frame, but with the loving eye of a connoisseur, flashing back responsive glances to the “eye” of the sparkling wine as it moves itself (like a lurking demon) to lure and to fascinate. As the adder or basilisk with its piercing eye, so shall it prove to have a piercing and a mortal sting, not discoverable at first—or who would encounter it? For when the love of strong drink is in the blood, or else acquired, it soon leads on to excess; that to licentiousness and folly (ver. 33); that to brutal hardening and stupefaction; till at last, like a passenger rocking in a vessel, tempest-tost in the trough of the sea, or even cradled at the mast-head, its victim stupidly incurs risks the most imminent, recovering from which he, in his desperate fool-hardiness, only ignores the past, and longs to renew his orgies. What a picture to shudder at and dread to make one’s own!

September 10th

Be not thou envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them. Fret not thyself because of evil men, neither be thou envious at the wicked; for there shall be no reward to the evil man; the candle of the wicked shall be put out.”—24:1, 19, 20 (3:31; 13:9; 23:17).

Interpretation.—The sentiment, and in some measure the phraseology, are borrowed from Ps. 37. Addressed to the sons of wisdom, a twofold temptation is guarded against, as likely to arise out of the seeming prosperity of the wicked. Against these, good men may be so envious as to learn to hate them together with their evil doings. Or they may be so fretted by contrasting their own temporal condition with that of the unscrupulous and successful men of the world, as to conceive the desire to associate with these, and to learn their ways. Against both temptations this “counsel” is directed, and the ground it takes up is that, in view of eternity, the wicked have a portion not comparable for a moment with that of the righteous—their prosperity being at best short-lived, and then extinguished forever.

Illustrations.—Both to Asaph and Jeremiah was the temptation to fret themselves known, and both saw their way out of it by looking up to God, and forward to the end (Ps. 37; Jer. 12:1–3). Ahab, Athaliah, Haman, how prosperous in their wickedness did they seem, and how did their lamp go out in obscure darkness (2 Kings 10:11; 11:20; Esth. 9:25)!

Application.—So many warnings point to a “temptation common to man.” Faith which realizes things unseen will alone conquer it. For while I look only at “the things that are seen,” I may easily be puzzled at the contrarieties which present themselves in life: God’s people oppressed and afflicted, the wicked triumphing and prosperous. But let me gaze into futurity from a higher standpoint of view, even from the sanctuary of my God. Let me accept the invitation, “Come up hither,” and peer through the door opened in heaven (Rev. 4:1). A longer look at the things eternal in a clearer sky than that of earth will set my judgment right. A lively hope will still the tumult in my breast. Then shall I see “the end of those men” I was disposed to envy, perhaps to consort with and imitate; how “to them is no future,” no life worthy to be called life; how, after walking a little while “in a vain show,” they “have found nothing,” but “come to nought.” And then, too, I shall see how the reverse is true of the righteous, how their temporary darkness brightens into glory.

And, O my God, be my lot with them; and far from envying let me compassionate the wicked; and never, never fret against Thee!

September 11th

Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established: and by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”—24:3, 4 (3:18; 8:21; 14:1).

Interpretation.—A contrast is implied with the fleeting prosperity of the wicked just spoken of. Their house may be built but it cannot be established by iniquity, for its foundation is rotten. Whereas, when to religious principles are joined discretion and knowledge, the result is commonly seen in a well-ordered and prosperous household, a disciplined and well-stored mind, and a spiritual life rich in good works and adorned with all precious and pleasant graces.

Illustrations.—Joseph, through the fear of God and the exercise of sound prudence, was enabled both to establish Pharaoh’s kingdom and to fill the granaries of Egypt. David, behaving wisely in all his ways, and “ruling in the fear of God,” established his dynasty, for the Lord made him an house (2 Sam. 7:11). Solomon, ere he forsook God, was prospered in his building, and filled the Temple and his own palace with rare and costly treasures. His own mind too was stored with wisdom and knowledge. The true believer whose heart is established with grace (Heb. 13:9), by adding grace to grace, becomes filled with the fruits of righteousness (2 Pet 1:5–7; Phil. 1:11).

Application.—When tempted to envy sinners, let me bethink myself how much more enviable is the lot of the true Christian. That he is a temple replete with costly furniture, for there dwells within him the Holy Ghost the Sanctifier. That he is a stone of that living Temple, whose foundations are Apostles and prophets, “Jesus Christ Himself being the Head Corner-stone.” That this being so, it is a small matter to believe that God is willing to provide him with such things as are needful for this present life, and, it may be, to add to them many of its comforts and elegancies. Let me remember, however, that He is not pledged to reward piety with riches, but that things plain and mean become both precious and pleasant when God is in them. There is a serenity too about the true Christian’s position, both in the present and the future, which compensates for many trials. But while to genuine personal piety “exceeding great and precious promises” are attached, it is true wisdom to add to it discretion, and the cultivation of the whole man, and the well ordering of the household. A Christian is the more admirable and wields the more influence for good if his mind is well stored, his business well managed, his family well brought up. It is a slur on his character, nay, a proof that he is so far not truly wise, when religion is made an excuse for slovenliness, or a substitute for intellectual culture.

September 12th

Wisdom is too high for a fool: he openeth not his mouth in the gate.”—24:7.

Interpretation.—“Wisdom is high places,” i.e. inaccessible “to a fool.” But this, through his own want of determination and energy. What powers he has are frittered away instead of being rightly applied. Hence, he becomes a mere cipher among men, and however he may babble in the streets, is never asked to open his mouth in the council chamber. For by “the gate” is signified the place where, in Solomon’s day, important public business was transacted. In other words, the incompetent man (distinguished from the wise counsellors above spoken of in ver. 6) is not put into public offices of trust and responsibility.

Illustrations.—In all ages and countries there have been people noted for their unwisdom and incapacity. Thus Job, reproving his wife, alludes to “the foolish women,” as a class well known in his day (ch. 2:10). Tamar, expostulating with her brother Amnon, warns him that if he persists in his wicked purpose he will be “as one of the fools in Israel” (2 Sam. 13:13). Such persons would not be called into councils which, as Jethro advised Moses, should consist of “able men” (Exod. 18:21).

Application.—Men who are born with abilities below the average need not blame themselves that they are excluded from posts of influence, and will do well to stand by while others speak. But most men have abilities capable of so much improvement as to fit them for some degree of usefulness among their fellow-men. The servant in the parable to whom only one talent was committed, would (we may infer) have been promoted over at least one city had he improved it as he might have done. But he chose to assume, as too many do of wisdom, that what was required was unattainable, and, therefore, he made no effort. It is a common excuse of those who have “no heart to it” that wisdom is beyond their reach. But if not high intellectual attainments, yet what is really better, “the wisdom that is from above” is within the reach of all who strive and pray. Not to “mind earthly things,” but to have his “conversation in heaven,” may be given to every Christian, and with it must needs come influence in the world for good. Even very ordinary abilities may, by laborious cultivation, be so improved as to give their owner a right to be heard among his fellow-men. None can forecast the opportunities which may arise for bringing into play the special gift or branch of knowledge he may have cultivated. None can say what a secret unknown power his unworldly character might have been among his fellow-men. To have aimed at nothing will result in losing all.

September 13th

He that deviseth to do evil shall be called a mischievous person.”—24:8.

Interpretation.—The purport of this “counsel” is to warn against the stigma which will sooner or later attach to one who plots evil against others. His true character, however cloaked, known to God always, shall be detected by his fellow-men, and stigmatized as a “master of mischief,” he shall find himself shunned.

Illustrations.—Balaam devised a masterpiece of mischief worthy of Satan when he counselled Israel’s temptation to licentiousness by way of withdrawing from them the protecting shield of God’s blessing. He is held up for reprobation and warning in no fewer than three passages of the New Testament Scriptures (2 Pet. 2:15; Jude 11; Rev. 2:14). Jeroboam conceived a master-stroke of policy (as it seemed) in the scheme to alienate his subjects from Jerusalem. But it proved hollow as a matter of expediency, and branded him for ever as the man that “made Israel to sin” (1 Kings 14:10, 16). There were those among the ancients (have they not their imitators in modern times?) to whom the execrable title “inventors of evil things” has been affixed by an inspired pen (Rom. 1:30).

Application.—Satan was the first deviser of mischief, and all his names imply his character. Since he brought sin into the world, how many men and women, yea, children even, have carried on his work! Various are the degrees and multiform the kinds of mischief devised upon the bed (Ps. 36:4) and elsewhere, by active but unsanctified minds. It is lamentable to reflect what talent, imagination, thought, are concentrated upon schemes which can only end in confusion and disgrace to their authors. For, although they may cunningly employ others as tools, and thus, for a while, avert discovery from themselves, the time will come when their secret machinations shall be exposed. God, who noted them from the first, will bring about their detection by man, and in the future more even than is just and true will be laid to their charge. A name once earned as a mischief-maker is never lost. The owner of it will be shunned and labelled (so to speak) as dangerous, long after he may have actually ceased to be so. He is supposed to be insatiable of evil, just as much as wisdom, holiness, and charity are insatiable of doing good.

Oh, then, may I eschew from the first those subtle, crafty schemes, whether for my own advancement or for others’ hurt, which make of a man a devil; and may I rather aim at such holy plans of Christian usefulness as turn men into ministering angels!

September 14th

The thought of foolishness is sin.”—24:9.

Interpretation.—“Foolishness” signifies, here as elsewhere, moral pravity. By “the thought of foolishness” is meant the devising or contriving of that which is evil. This, even if it fail to be carried out, is sin in the sight of a pure and holy God.

Illustrations.—Why was the Flood sent upon the earth? Not only because the deeds of men were wicked, but because “every imagination of the thoughts of (man’s) heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Job was aware of the sinfulness of heart sins, and pleaded for his sons accordingly (ch. 1:5). David, taught of God, could say, “I hate vain thoughts” (Ps. 119:113). Of our Blessed Lord it is recorded, not only that He knew the thoughts but charged the Scribes with thinking evil in their hearts (Matt. 9:3, 4). His Apostle Peter exhorted Simon Magus to pray, if perhaps the thought of his heart might be forgiven him (Acts 8:22).

Application.—A wide field for repentance is opened to our view by these inspired words. We are naturally inclined to think only of words and deeds as needing forgiveness, and these only when very bad. But add to these those “devices and desires of our own hearts” which we profess to repent of (vide General Confession), and we can better understand why David should speak of his sins as “more in number than the hairs of (his) head” (Ps. 40:12). We may even a little more conceive of the intolerable burden the great Sin-bearer undertook for us. I must first then be convinced, with St. Paul, that evil concupiscence, the source of evil thoughts, is in itself sin (Rom. 7:7). Then I must reflect upon the innumerable imaginations and machinations of evil I have entertained in my heart. If even an in-voluntary thought of sin will so soil its purity as to need the atoning Blood, how much more those thoughts which are welcomed, cherished, detained, as it were “kept in the midst of the palate” (Job 20:13)! In one day of an unguarded life how many such thoughts are conceived! what myriads in a year! Humiliation, confession, penitence, absolution, are all needed for these, though I may hope that along with the confessed the unremembered sins may be “blotted out as a thick cloud” (Isa. 44:22). After that a watch must be set, and sin crushed in its germ. For this, the most difficult of the Christian’s tasks, “grace sufficient” is pledged.

Faint not then, O my soul, but gird thyself to it, mindful of the momentous truth that as thy thoughts so art thou thyself, and that sensitiveness to evil thoughts is one of the surest marks of the divine life!

September 15th

The scorner is an abomination to men.”—24:9.

Interpretation.—The character here intended is an advance in wickedness upon the one just considered. To allow evil cogitations and schemes to dwell in the mind is sinful. But how much more so to mock at those who refuse to entertain them, to ridicule the notion of their being wrong, and to attempt to carry them out with a high hand! Such a man earns for himself a bad name (21:24), and becomes deservedly an abomination to men as well as to God.

Illustrations.—The judgment upon Dathan and his party was a plain indication of the displeasure with which God regards scorners (Numb. 16:12, etc.). The young people of Bethel, mocking Elisha for his reverend years, and scoffing at the ascension of his master, were an “abomination” in the prophet’s eyes. How shocked, and justly, were Eliakim and others at the scornful language used by Rabshakeh (2 Kings 18:37)! The observance of the Feast of Purim by the Jews for two thousand years and more, in memory of their nation’s escape from the intrigues of Haman, shows in how great “abomination” that haughty “scorner’s” name is still held among them.

Application.—While some tremble at the mere thought of sin, others deride the notion of sin altogether. Let me observe the conclusion of their respective habits of mind. The man with sensitive conscience will go on unto perfection, approving himself in the eyes of God and man alike. The scorner will depart further and further from God’s law till he becomes a pest among his fellow-men. For, not only will he cast aside the bonds of social obligation, but will aim at enlisting others on his side by ridicule and threats. Hence, he will become not only in the eyes of the godly “an abomination,” but also in the eyes of all who value even a conventional morality. For it will be seen that to follow his pernicious example would be to introduce mutual jealousy, distrust, and anarchy into the social circle. Let me ever avoid the fear of contamination, “the pestilential chair of the scornful” (Ps. 1:1, Septuagint). Let me beware of contracting a habit of thinking lightly of sin. Not to strangle evil thoughts at once is to cherish them, and from conniving at wickedness to deriding goodness is no great step. Once let that step be taken, and I forfeit not God’s favor alone, but that of all men who are not themselves scorners.

So then, be it my prayerful determination never to encourage the unholy wit of a scornful tongue, and to cultivate in myself a spirit of “holy fear”!

September 16th

My son, eat thou honey, because it is good; and the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste: so shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul: when thou hast found it, then there shall be a reward, and thy expectation shall not be cut off.”—24:13, 14.

Interpretation.—Wisdom is likened to honey, a common product, an article of diet even from infancy, in Palestine. The knowledge of honey would beget a taste for it, and it would be found (specially in the comb) to be both sweet and nutritious. So, when the spiritual senses are exercised to discern heavenly wisdom, will it be resorted as the soul’s pleasant food; and not only in the present but in the future will bring its reward corresponding to, yea, far exceeding all expectation.

Illustrations.—“Honey” mixed with “butter” (rather, “thickened or curdled milk”) was diet for a child (Isa. 7:15). Jonathan found the taste of a honeycomb invigorating under extreme fatigue (1 Sam. 14:27). Our Blessed Lord ate of a honeycomb after His resurrection (Luke 24:42). Thus we see that it was diet for all ages, and reviving in its effects. And just so David proved by experience from early days that Divine Wisdom was “sweeter than honey and the honeycomb,” “enlightening the eyes,” “rejoicing the heart;” and that in keeping its holy precepts there was “exceeding great reward” (Ps. 19:8, 10, 11).

Application.—It needs but experience to convince one of the pleasure and profit to be derived from that practical knowledge of God’s Word which constitutes true religion. As soon might a man who has tasted honey doubt its sweetness as one who has found the truth fail to recognize its exquisite beauty and pleasantness. But the taste for it, once acquired, will lead on to such renewed and perpetual applications to its fountain-head as must result in ever-increasing spiritual profit. Here the simile fails. For whereas too much of honey would cloy the appetite (25:16), there can be no excess of heavenly wisdom—the more of this the better. Nor will it ever disappoint the expectations it has raised. Nay, if I feed my soul with spiritual food, I shall prove the gospel not a golden dream but a divine reality. I shall experience more and more the “love that passeth knowledge,” “the peace that passeth all understanding,” the “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Nor will the reward end here. In the future state the soul which has here tasted of the sweetness of the Divine Wisdom, will be given “to eat of the hidden manna” (Rev. 2:17; Exod. 16:31), will be abundantly satisfied with the plenteousness of His house (Ps. 36:8).

September 17th

Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: lest the Lord see it, and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him.”—24:17, 18.

Interpretation.—The “fall” and stumbling here spoken of are not to be understood of moral delinquencies, but of divine judgments. This is evident from the threat which follows. To rejoice at such in the case of an enemy will be “evil in God’s eyes,” and may lead to His wrath being turned upon the exultant one instead of the other, as upon the greater offender of the two.

Illustrations.—Upon Ammon and Tyre heavy judgments were denounced for their insulting words and actions at the downfall of Jerusalem (Ezek. 26:2–6; 25:6). Esau’s descendants were made desolate because they rejoiced at the calamity of the descendants of his twin-brother; and God turned away His wrath from Jerusalem (Ezek. 25:15; 36:1–15; Obad. 12–21). David, on the other hand, speaks of himself as having sorely grieved at the sickness of his adversaries (Ps. 35:13, 14); and none can doubt the genuine character of the dirge composed by him at the death of Saul. The Divine Son of David wept over the anticipated fall of that city which disowned and murdered Him.

Application.—Among the nobler instincts which have survived the Fall, is that of sympathy with the afflicted. But there is danger lest this be withheld in the case of an enemy. An enemy! Were it not for sin that name would be unknown. Alas! in this evil world it is too often impossible to live peaceably with all men; but I am bound, as a Christian, to take care that the fault be not on my side (Rom. 12:18). And may I not best prove this to myself and others by both feeling and manifesting towards an enemy (if I have one) genuine sympathy under trial? Especially, if the calamity which has overtaken him be of the nature of a judicial retribution, let me tremble should a thrill of joy run through my heart. This would be a symptom of spiritual ill health, and, if not at once corrected, might lead on to that indecent exultation which is absolutely suicidal. For then God is wont to take up the matter, and often transfers a measure of His wrath to the presumptuously triumphant one. I may expect the cup of trembling to be put into my own hand. There is, indeed, a holy joy at the triumph of good over evil (Ps. 58:10). But this is on purely public grounds, and not unmixed with sorrow for the offender. Even Jesus, the righteous Judge, wept over the approaching doom of His cruel foes.

O God, melt my stony heart by the power of Thy love, that I may “weep with them that weep,” though they be my enemies!

September 18th

A true witness delivereth souls: but a deceitful witness speaketh lies.”—14:25.

Interpretation.—The last words of the first clause might be rendered “saveth lives.” The second clause is inferentially an antithesis to the first. We might have expected it to conclude with “destroyeth lives.” But the actual words imply as much, for what is more destructive than falsehood? The general sentiment would seem to be that truth is most often found in union with kindness of heart, and falsehood with malevolence.

Illustrations.—Pharaoh’s butler, by speaking truth about Joseph, was the means of his deliverance out of prison. The false witnesses against Naboth and St. Stephen procured their deaths. Micaiah contrasts with Zedekiah and the other lying prophets in that he would by truthful warning have saved Ahab from the destruction upon which he rushed, encouraged by their dreadful promises. St. Paul was able to call God to witness that he was free from the blood of all men, in other words, from misleading them to their souls’ ruin. But the same could not be said of those who corrupted the Word of God, and handled it deceitfully (2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2).

Application.—To bear false witness is forbidden by the laws of God and man alike. And few are they who would venture upon such a crime in a court of justice. But, outside of it, the same caution is too often not observed; and many a character (dearer than life) is taken away, not only by words, but by expressive gesture, and even by silence. But, as a Christian, I am bound not only to abjure all such malevolence, but to be on the alert to save, not life only, but character, if it may be, by my testimony. Besides this, I am called on to witness for Christ in the world by word when opportunity offers, by example always. I ought, indeed, to hazard all for the interests of the truth, mindful of that true and faithful witness within the bosom, who will one day call me to account, should the cause of true religion suffer through my fault. And suffer it will, not only by silence, but still more by inconsistency. If e.g. my conduct in the market or the office be not in keeping with my devotional exercises in church; or if, as a clergyman, I am not the same man out of the pulpit as in it. It is a suggestive and solemn fact that the sin of Jerusalem was “a comfort” to her sisters Samaria and Sodom (Ezek. 16:54). Alas! how many professed Christians, whose lives bear false witness to the gospel, are thereby helping on the cause of the infidel and the scoffer, while they encourage others in inconsistency.

Incarnate Truth! grant me, in Thee and for Thee, evermore to speak the truth in love!

September 19th

My son, fear thou the Lord and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change: for their calamity shall rise suddenly; and who knoweth the ruin of them both?”—24:21, 22.

Interpretation.—The “counsel” is to “hold in awe” and obey the Lord, and the king as His vicegerent. Obviously, no human power can supersede the divine. “Change” is to be avoided when it sets aside or tampers with either the worship of the true God or the lawful authority of the true king. It is perilous in the extreme to mix one’s self up with fickle men, who are fond of innovations. Such men expose themselves to calamity and sudden ruin at the hands of the authority they have defied.

Illustrations.—Into what awful destruction did the two hundred and fifty princes who abetted Korah precipitate themselves by their rebellion (Numb. 16:2, 32; Jude 11)! The followers of Absalom and Adonijah invoked their own judgments. Did Israel do wisely in rejecting God as their King, whom Gideon had refused to supplant (1 Sam. 8:7, 11, etc.; Judg. 8:22, 23)? David evinced true loyalty both to his God and his king (1 Sam. 24:6).

Application.—Change is not forbidden under any circumstances, since it may be for the better. But change for the sake of change, whether in Church or State, is earnestly to be deprecated as fraught with danger. Loyalty to both God and king is recommended in the New Testament as well as in the Old (Matt. 22:21; 1 Pet. 2:17), and the two are combined as in some sort mutually dependent. The principle of loyalty is the same as of godliness, for loyalty in the abstract can only proceed from fear of God, Who has enjoined it. On one plea only may resistance to lawful authority be justified—when the choice lies between obedience to God or man. Every attempt to define the limitation of rebellion (save this one) will be found to open the door to anarchy. Under our own constitutional government changes may be constitutionally brought about. As a Christian citizen, I may advocate these when desirable. Should the civil power so violate the rights of the Church as to affect injuriously God’s honor in the cause of His truth, it is my plain duty to protest—it may be to resist. A broad distinction should be drawn between innovations and renovations. To claim the latter when founded on law and justice ought surely not to be deemed seditious. Loyalty is most secure when it has godliness to lean upon. Hence, it is due to the earthly sovereign as well as to the heavenly to resist all tamperings with the faith. For Satan, who is the foe to all authority saving his own, knows well how much easier it is to adulterate than to abolish a religion.

September 20th

It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment. He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous; him shall the people curse, nations shall abhor him.”—24:23, 24 (17:15).

Interpretation.—Partiality in one who assumes to act as a judge is the grave fault here warned against. Two features are specified, with the first of which we have to do here—the justification of the wicked. Against the ruler or judge guilty of such a breach of justice, popular animosity, it is alleged, will be excited.

Illustrations.—Tertullus was an advocate who justified the wicked Jews in their persecution of St. Paul, whose condemnation by unfounded charges he sought, at the same time flattering Felix who was a very bad man (Acts 24:1–9). Even worse than this—there were lying prophets in old times who dared to “call evil good,” and who prophesied falsely, pandering to wicked priests (Isa. 5:20; Jer. 5:31). And there have been (perhaps are still) Christian ministers who, instead of “rightly dividing the word of truth,” have dealt it out partially, “having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage” (Jude 16).

Application.—The private and personal vices of one in authority are more easily condoned than those betrayed in his public and official character. Thus, a ruler or a judge may be a bad man and yet popular. But let him, through gross partiality, absolve crime and gloat over the miscarriage of justice, and he shall raise a storm of indignation before which he will one day quail. For there is a sense of justice implanted in the human breast, and an instinct which teaches the most ignorant that good laws are useless unless faithfully administered. Even a school-boy is revolted by unjust treatment; and a whole household may be thrown into open rebellion by a high-handed system of partiality. Be it my great aim as a magistrate, a parent, a master, to be strictly fair. Let no personal prepossessions, no bias (theological or other), no fear or favour induce me to misjudge a cause. Let me know the truth only—not faces, nor opinions, nor consequences. Partiality in judgment is not good, and can never lead to good; nor will considerations of expediency be ever found to have been expedient. He only may justify the guilty Who has satisfied the law on his behalf. But if to have respect of persons be a grievous fault in a civil or domestic ruler, is it less so in one who has authority in the Church of God? For a bishop to prefer one before another, acting with partiality, or to condone sin in others, was evidently in St. Paul’s eyes an enormous sin. Hence he charges Timothy, in terms of extreme solemnity, to guard against it (1 Tim. 5:21, 22; Ezek. 3:18, etc.).

September 21st (F. St. Matthew)

As iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”—27:17.

Interpretation.—This proverb reaches below the surface. It is true that intercourse with a brother will often impart brightness to a countenance worn dull with solitary musings. It is true also that collision with other minds has a tendency to sharpen the intellect, polish the manners, and waken up all the faculties. But a deeper truth besides is pointed out—“the gain of mutual counsel as found in clear, well-defined thoughts;” and still more, the gain to the Christian character of mutual provocation to love and to good works (Heb. 10:24).

Illustrations.—The case of St. Matthew (whose day we commemorate) is one in point. In each account of his call it is expressly mentioned that “Jesus saw a man,” etc. St. Luke employs a word which signifies “fixed His eyes upon.” Who can doubt that there was something in that divinely human countenance which, added to the words spoken, quickened the soul of that publican, so that he at once forsook all to follow Christ? Who can doubt that his close intercourse afterwards as an Apostle with his venerated Master gave him that clear and well-defined knowledge which enabled him, by the Spirit’s aid, to become the historian of the life of Christ as a King? And who would not fain believe that the influence of this converted man of the world over his former friends and associates, those publicans and sinners whom he invited to his “great feast,” would be for the gladdening of their lives forever by bringing them to Jesus (Matt. 9:10)?

Application.—The divine saying that “it is not good that the man should be alone” applies not only to marriage. The need of human society as the best school for man has given rise to other proverbial sayings, such as, “One man is nobody;” and again, “Every man is his own worst master.” It is found that, for mind to encounter mind, both stimulates thought and rubs off the rust of sadness. Flashes of invention have thus been struck out, to the benefit of art and science. Accordingly, boys should be sent to schools and colleges where a wholesome emulation is encouraged. Moreover, I shall find it good for myself to encounter other intellects, and among them some that are superior to my own. Nor should my religion take the form of exclusiveness and isolation. By this bigots are made. Rather let me seek in profitable converse with others that attrition of intellect, that enlargement of ideas, that expansion of the heart, which are its proper effect. And, most of all to be desired, is that “taking of sweet counsel” with God’s people, which cheers and elevates the soul. Then, the bright mind beaming through the countenance will inspirit others, and I may learn better to understand “the communion of saints.”

September 22nd

To them that rebuke (the wicked) shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them.”—24:25.

Interpretation.—This “counsel” is the counterpart of the foregoing (ver. 24). In that judges are warned against justifying the wicked. This encourages to rebuke them; in other words, to exercise a wise severity in administering the law. The judge who does this without fear or favor, to him “shall be delight.” His own conscience will approve him. The public approbation, affection, and confidence will be his. Instead of man’s curse (which perhaps he feared), and which the unjust judge will reap (ver. 24), “blessing with good,” yea, “blessings of goodness,” shall come upon him “from God” (Ps. 21:3).

Illustrations.—David was able to plead, with pardonable exultation, “I have done judgment and justice” (Ps. 119:121). Doubtless it was from a righteous motive, not a revengeful one, that he enjoined upon his successor to visit their grievous offences upon the heads of Joab and Shimei (1 Kings 2:5, 6, 8, 9). Job, a chieftain in the land of Uz, speaks of the honor and satisfaction he reaped from the right discharge of his judicial duties (ch. 29:7–17). Nehemiah’s vigorous reform of abuses gave him success in his mission and a plea before God (ch. 5:7, 9; 13:8–11, 25–31). Even the licentious Herod “feared” his reprover, and would gladly have spared his life (Mark 6:20, 26).

Application.—It is to many much harder to be severe than kind. Natural disposition, personal regard, fear of consequences, may tend to make it so in a particular case. But the good judge has to steel his heart against all such considerations, and simply to mete out justice. Let him bravely fulfil his duty, and God, Who is the patron of justice, will be his shield. Nay, more, he will have the reward of his righteous dealing in himself and in the good-will and approval of his fellow-citizens. To be known as “the just” is to enjoy a title of no small honor. To have God’s blessing is worth more than the world can give. I should pray for the appointment of magistrates who will administer justice “indifferently.” I should aim at being just myself in all the relations of life. To speak “the truth in love,” unpalatable though it be, is a duty required at times of most. “To reprove and rebuke,” as well as “to exhort,” belongs to a faithful ministry of souls (2 Tim. 4:2). Public opinion is the chief bulwark of justice in a land, and in the Church. So, then, every citizen who cultivates that virtue, above all every true Christian and faithful minister, is helping in his degree to promote a sound administration of the law. And he who desires this for others must submit to it himself, and bear to be rebuked and punished when in the wrong.

September 23rd

Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field: and afterwards build thine house.”—24:27.

Interpretation.—“Field labor” is the work indicated (1 Chron. 27:26). The “counsel” is both economical and ethical. As the first, it warns against beginning (so to speak) at the wrong end, building a house, establishing a household, before the farm is made productive enough to secure a livelihood. As the second, it may teach the need of cleaning the soil of the heart ere the spiritual edifice within can be reared; or the bearing of man’s outer, common work upon the higher life.

Illustrations.—Both David and Solomon acted upon the principle of this text; the former in providing beforehand the materials for building the Temple, the latter in having every stone hewn and shaped and polished outside the area of the Temple, so as to be fitted noiselessly thereinto (1 Kings 5:18; 6:7; 1 Chron. 22:13–16). Our Blessed Lord employs an illustration similar to our proverb when He warns against precipitancy in taking up with His religion, by the example of one who, beginning to build without having counted the cost, is not able to finish (Luke 14:28–30).

Application.—Religion inculcates prudence. But it is imprudent, and therefore irreligious, to attempt more than is practicable. I ought to look before me, to see my way clear, ere I take any important step, to count the cost. Many have ruined themselves by building a mansion too soon, who might have prospered had they been content for a while with a cottage. Many, by a hasty and improvident marriage, have damaged their prospects for life. Let the most necessary things be done first of all, and so, a reliable fulcrum for future success be obtained. Let nothing be undertaken without a plan and such preparation as shall preclude ignominious failure. And, if so in worldly matters, still more in spiritual. It is unwise to profess more than one is prepared to maintain. The foundation must be laid deep if the superstructure is to endure; the first principles mastered in order to go on unto perfection. The active life will be found a great help to the contemplative, and the soul be built up in holiness by lessons learnt outside as well as within the sanctuary. In Church economy also it is well first to break up the ground by pastoral work, and then to build the material church. And let him who would edify souls make such use of the wisdom and experience of the Fathers that he may become “a wise master-builder.”

Be it my wise resolve in building for eternity to lay the foundation deep in repentance, confession, absolution from my old sins, that my spiritual life may be so built up as to endure, and I may become a holy temple, acceptable unto the Lord!

September 24th

Be not a witness against thy neighbor without cause; and deceive not with thy lips. Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work.”—24:28, 29 (3:30).

Interpretation.—These two “counsels” may very well be combined. The first cautions against that forwardness to give evidence to a neighbor’s disadvantage without any clear call to give it, which justifies itself deceitfully. The second points to a forbidden motive for such malevolence—the secret desire to pay off an enemy in his own coin.

Illustrations.—Doeg gave evidence against Ahimelech out of pure maliciousness, and kept back the fact that what he had done was in supposed obedience to the king’s command—a fact which, made known, would probably have saved the high priest’s life (1 Sam. 22:9, 10; 21:1, 2). Those who were forward to accuse a woman of adultery before Jesus were evidently no better than she, though they pretended to be jealous for the law (John 8:6). The testimony against the innocent Savior was out of “envy,” as His judge well knew, with a flavor of revenge for His own testimony against wickedness in high places. St. Paul showed a Christian spirit as well as a generous one when, forgetting all he had endured and was enduring unjustly at the hands of his countrymen, he openly said (and he acted upon the sentiment) that he had naught to accuse his nation of (Acts 28:19).

Application.—The prohibitions scattered over the pages of Holy Scripture convincingly prove the human heart to be one and the same in all ages. In its unrenewed state there is still too often a proneness to do gratuitous damage to character, which can only be termed Satanic. For whatever pleasure it brings is of the most opposite nature to that which is “at God’s right hand.” Sometimes, however, this pleasure is, alas! too human, having its root in a revengeful spirit. And, to one who has not “learned Christ,” it seems justification enough to plead, “He hath done so to me.” Grace, however, infuses a better spirit, and constrains to a higher obligation. The penitent would do violence to himself rather than to an enemy. The forgiven one feels bound to forgive. The self-knowing Christian forgives himself little, his neighbor much. The new principle at work is to return evil with good. The tongue, coerced by this spirit of love, shrinks from any witness against another except as duty bound. Whispers against character are avoided not less than open accusations. For it is rightly considered that a whisper may become a report; may be like a stone dropped secretly into the still lake, which gives its first impulse to the circling, widening wave.

Lord, be it my part as Thy true disciple to hear no evil of a friend, to speak none of an enemy!

September 25th

Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.”—24:33, 34 (6:9, 10).

Interpretation.—This is the moral of a parable which the wise man derives from the spectacle of a neighbor’s negligence. He has observed a property, a field and a vineyard, fallen into complete decay through its owner’s stupid sloth. The wall enclosing the latter (Isa. 5:5) had been allowed to be broken down, and thorns and nettles to cover the face of the ground. From so melancholy a sight he “received instruction” (ver. 32). It pointed to the consequences of indulged indolence in the case of any man. Yielded to more and more, the habit would at last establish itself, and its result be “poverty,” advancing with sure though stealthy step, like a traveler or thief in the night; and “want” succeeding quickly to poverty, and like “a man of a shield,” or armed marauder, seizing the unhappy sluggard in his iron grasp.

Illustrations.—“Abundance of idleness” was one of the sins which laid waste the moral character of the inhabitants of Sodom, and involved them in utter ruin (Ezek. 16:49). The Sardian Church and bishop were warned against a creeping paralysis of spiritual sloth which threatened to expose them (with some exceptions truly) to sudden and unexpected judgment at the hands of Christ (Rev. 3:2, 3).

Application.—A wise man will take lessons to himself from the examples of folly around him. And who has not seen that love of ease and comfort—the shrinking from real labor—is the parent of want and misery? But, worst of all, when the garden of the soul is neglected. For then, evil habits like “thorns” and dispositions injurious to others, like “nettles,” spring up apace and cover the ground, which ought to be “filled with the fruits of righteousness.” Then the Christian rule of life being (as it were) broken down, Satan goes and returns at will (Matt. 12:45; 2 Tim. 2:26). Such a man means not at the first to beggar his soul. He begins, it may be, with surrendering prayer and Holy Communion to sleep, and by degrees a fatal listlessness steals over him, and the spiritual life dies out. And, inasmuch as not to do good is to give the ascendency to evil, ere long he finds himself plundered of all that is worth possessing. If any produce is to be found in his field, it is “thistles instead of wheat;” if any fruit in his vineyard, it is “wild grapes,” “grapes of gall and clusters of bitterness.”

O God, let me not hug myself in presumptuous carelessness, but ever watch and pray as one who knows that “to our own safety our sedulity is required”!

September 26th

It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter. The heaven for height, and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings is unsearchable.”—25:2, 3.

Interpretation.—The point of this “counsel” seems to be that kings are not to affect intuitive knowledge of men and affairs. That belongs only to God, who, in His government of the world, knows all things, yet seems to dissemble His knowledge in patience and forbearance towards men. His glory is seen not only in what He reveals, but in what He conceals. But an earthly sovereign ought to “search out” the matters which come before him for judgment, and make known the grounds of his decision. True, the secret depths of a despot’s breast are as unfathomable as the space between heaven and earth, or from the crust of the earth to its centre. And there are many circumstances under which both dignity and prudence will compel the best ruler to keep his own counsel and many State questions which the public may not hope to penetrate.

Illustrations.—God, who knew the end from the beginning, allowed the evil deed of Joseph’s brethren to lie concealed until, in its consequences, His own secret purposes were worked out to the greater furtherance of His glory. So did His wondrous plan for the redemption of the world lie hid in His own bosom, being very gradually revealed, till the “fulness of time was come.” But David’s powers of discernment, though very remarkable (2 Sam. 14:19), failed him in the case of Absalom (2 Sam. 15:7–9), for they were not intuitive. And Solomon did wisely both to conceal his purpose while searching out the question between the two harlots, and also to allow the justice of his decision to be made clear.

Application.—It were preposterous to compare man with the Deity. Yet there have been monarchs who have even dared to “assume the god.” Herod’s fate might justly have been theirs (Acts 12:21–23). To keep Israel’s kings in their place, it was of old enjoined that they should study God’s law (Deut. 17:18, 19). Now, the more we study God, the deeper will be our humility. For we shall discover that in Himself and in His Word He is “past finding out.” Truly, He is “a God that hideth Himself,” “dwelling in the thick darkness.” How little a portion is known of Him!—and that little only makes it more apparent that infinitude is concealed. How rash then to question His judgments! How presumptuous to criticize His dealings! How foolhardy to “rush in where angels fear to tread”! His mysteries are for the exercise of faith—and to walk in those depths is to be overwhelmed.

September 27th

Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer. Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness.”—25:4, 5.

Interpretation.—This is a simile carried out. As the silversmith who would make a vessel of pure silver must first separate the dross from the pure metal, even so that king who would have “his throne established” (as it can only be) “in righteousness,” must banish the wicked from the court and council-chamber. There is, besides, a general principle here laid down to the effect that all authority to be permanent must be based on religion, and that “evil communications corrupt good manners, i.e. morals” (1 Cor. 15:33).

Illustrations.—David found himself “weak, though anointed king,” through the masterful and bad influence of the sons of Zeruiah (2 Sam. 3:39). His successor, by his advice, removed Joab and others; after which “the kingdom was established in his hand” (1 Kings 2:46). Rehoboam and Joash, on the contrary, by listening to evil counsellors, and Ahab by surrounding himself with them, both damaged themselves and their kingdoms seriously. The throne of the Great King will be established by the entire and eternal removal of all the wicked from His Presence (Mal. 3:17, 18; Matt. 25:31–46).

Application.—However great the ability of a ruler, it cannot be doubted that his moral character will powerfully affect his government, for good or evil, ay, for either in proportion to his ability. Now, the counsellors he selects and the courtiers he prefers to have about him will both indicate and influence his disposition to a very great extent. But his reign will be prosperous or not (in the true sense) according as he rules “in the fear of God” (2 Sam. 23:3). David, therefore, set forth a wise resolution, in that Psalm which has been well styled “The Mirror of Princes” (Ps. 101), to the effect that no wicked person should tarry in his sight. And is it not my duty as a citizen to pray very earnestly that my sovereign may indeed be “most religious,” and that the whole Council and all in authority may punish wickedness and vice and maintain true religion and virtue (Prayer for Church Militant)? For is it not “righteousness” which “exalteth a nation”? Is not sin a disgrace to any people? Amongst ourselves, the popular element is the most potential, and likely to become so still more in time to come. Let me therefore aim to be myself an element of good among my fellow-subjects, and to reclaim as many as possible who might otherwise become the dross and scum. Christ is King of souls, and before Him all evil habits must be purged out, that He may “reign in righteousness,” and that I may be “a vessel unto honor.”

September 28th

Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbor hath put thee to shame. Debate thy cause with thy neighbor himself; and discover not a secret to another: lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, and thine infamy turn not away.”—25:8, 9, 10.

Interpretation.—Here we have a wise caution against undue haste in controversy or litigation, coupled with a suggestion that disputed points may often be adjusted quietly between the principals themselves. Two notes of warning are sounded. The first, “lest thou do something (humiliating and vexatious) at the end thereof,” i.e. of thy controversy or lawsuit, being defeated in either. The other, lest in thy irritation “thou discover the secret of another (in order to damage thy opponent), and so bring upon thyself the irretrievable infamy which attaches to a malignant betrayer of confidence.

Illustrations.—Gaal’s defiance of Abimelech (Judg. 9:26–40), Abner’s challenge to Joab (2 Sam. 2:14, 17), Asahel’s vain confident pursuit of Abner (2 Sam. 2:18–23), Josiah’s incautious attack of Pharaoh Necho (2 Chron. 35:21, 22), are all instances of the rashness begotten of a hasty spirit as here advised against. On the other hand, in Abraham’s gentle remonstrances with Lot (Gen. 13:8), and Jephthah’s debate with the King of Ammon (Judg. 11:12–27), we see the spirit recommended by the wise king, and, on higher grounds, by our Lord (Matt. 18:15).

Application.—There may be circumstances under which controversy or litigation are unavoidable. But I ought to be very sure of my ground before embarking in either. If too hasty and self-confident, I may easily break down in the first, and expose myself and my cause to reproach. Or I may fail in my lawsuit, and find myself at the mercy of an exasperated opponent. Even lawyers, when not speaking professionally, advise against taking the law of another, if it can be avoided. In most cases it may be by moderation on one side or both. Let me, at least, be conciliatory, whatever my opponent may be. St. Paul thus advises (1 Cor. 6:7), and names “variance and strife” as among “the works of the flesh.” But, it may be that, by quiet, prayerful expostulation, I shall gain my brother, and thereby gain a triumph to Christianity. Should I fail to do so, the remedy ordained is to tell my grievance to the Church (Matt. 23:17)—to take advice of spiritual counsellors, and if possible submit my cause to the arbitration of fellow-Churchmen. In any case, I will not, God helping me, forget that, as a professor of Christ’s holy religion, the honour of the name of Christian is in some measure in my keeping.

September 29th (F. St. Michael and All Angels)

The king’s favour is toward a wise servant; but his wrath is against him that causeth shame.”—14:35.

Interpretation.—The statement is of what ought to be. It is true of a wise and good earthly king—how much more of God! To a servant of whatever degree who fulfils the duties of his office with prudence, fidelity, and zeal, are accorded favor and preferment. But a servant “that causeth shame” to the office he bears and to the prince’s choice, “is his displeasure,” the object of his wrath and condemnation.

Illustrations.—The angels were created to be God’s “ministers” in heaven. Some of them, by rebelling against their King, brought “shame and everlasting contempt” upon themselves, being cast out of heaven by His just wrath. But Michael and all the angels who have remained true to their allegiance, still bask in the sunshine of the Almighty’s favor, and fulfil His behests, whether by active or contemplative service.

Application.—A greater than Solomon is our King. And He has set before us the angels as models of faithful servants, teaching us to pray that we may do His will on earth as they do it in heaven. As to how this is, some glimpses are afforded us. Through the “door opened in heaven,” we see them ranged before the throne “in a wonderful order,” each in his own rank and place, some engaged in perpetual worship, others receiving commissions and winging their way to execute them, others waiting with patient expectancy to have their tasks assigned them (Rev. 7:11; 4:4; 8:2, 3; Isa. 6:1–3). Looking upon the earth through the glass of faith and revelation, we behold them as “ministering spirits;” some in charge of this principality or that (Dan. 10:20, 21; 12:1); some presiding over the course of nature (Rev. 7:1; Heb. 1:7; John 5:4); some taking the guardianship of little ones from the font, and watching over them through life (Matt. 18:10; 2 Kings 6:16, 17); some present in our solemn assemblies, and specially looking down upon the Christian altar with wondering eyes (1 Pet. 1:12; John 1:51), and with ears attent to their own Eucharistic hymns (“Ter Sanctus” and “Gloria in Excelsis”). Christ is the ladder let down from heaven to join the eternal world to this, and by Him angels reconciled to man now wait upon our world continually (Col. 1:20; John 1:51). To do this He became a servant, even “a little lower than the angels” (Ps. 8:5).

O my God, grant me to accept servitude as the badge of Christian dignity, and to aim to do Thy will in a like wonderful order as the angels, without which there cannot be peace upon earth nor yet in heaven!

September 30th

As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear.”—25:12 (15:31; 27:5, 6).

Interpretation.—The wise reprover is here compared to a gold earring or other still more costly ornament in his connection with an obedient ear. The reason is that such a hearer does not reject his counsels, but makes them his own, and wears them (so to speak) to his own honor and profit. “The ornament of fine gold” (or “pearls,” as some read it) was often attached to the simple earring, chiefly as a distinction of rank.

Illustrations.—David exemplified the sentiment of Ps. 141:5 by his way of receiving Nathan’s rebuke. Jehoshaphat, far from resenting, profited by the seer Jehu’s remonstrance (2 Chron. 19:1–4). The first use Zacharias made of his recovered speech, after Gabriel’s sentence had been fulfilled, was to praise and glorify God. How meekly did the Blessed Virgin bow to the gently reproving hint of her Divine Son (John 2:4, 5)! St. Paul, as a wise reprover, had the joy of seeing his Corinthian converts accept his words obediently to their own great credit (2 Cor. 7:9–11).

Application.—Rare is a wise reprover, and rarer still the man who can accept reproof, however merited, obediently. He who can, not only evinces nobility of disposition, but becomes ennobled thereby. He does himself far more honor and his ears more service than by adorning them with gold. He esteems his reprover as one who has decorated him with something far better than an ornament, however costly. But where is that “wise reprover” who confers such benefits and earns such gratitude? Alas! how common is the administration of counsel and rebuke! how seldom is it wisely administered! Some are content to speak the truth boldly, not taking heed to speak it in love. Others blurt it out inopportunely, and thereby mar its efficacy. Our lips should have learned that there is “a time to speak, and a time to be silent,” should know what is acceptable (10:32). For a duty so delicate and responsible, great preparation is needed. I have to ascertain to whom, when, and how to speak. Wisdom from above is needed, and that wisdom which is born of experience in taking reproof well. When I can say to God, “Mine ears hast Thou opened” (Ps. 40:6) to attend to the words of wisdom, then I have begun to acquire that humility, faith, and love, which will go far to qualify me for profitably advising others. It is a triumph of grace when one can say, with David, “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil” (Ps. 141:5). Such sentiments reflect honor upon the speaker, and not less upon those whose reproofs he professes himself so willing to accept.[1]

 

 

[1] Pearson, C. R. (1881). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 2, pp. 63–92). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)

October

October 1st

By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone.”—25:15 (14:29; 15:1).

Interpretation.—A “prince” or great man, whether by birth or office, is apt to be more touchy and jealous of his honor and authority than other men. Yet even he, when not irritated by ill-advised speeches, but treated with patient forbearance, will be won over when he has taken perhaps undue offence. For gentle means are the most effectual in cases of resentment, whether well-founded or unreasonable. And a gentle tongue will subdue in time a disposition or will as hard as bone.

Illustrations.—Jacob with Esau, and Abigail with David, proved the power of a soft tongue. The son of Jesse’s long forbearance wrought at last even upon the exasperated temper of Saul (1 Sam. 24:8–20; 26:13–25). God Himself is mollified by a patient and subdued spirit under His threatenings, as in the case of Ahab (1 Kings 21:28). And was it not by the gentleness of His tongue that Jesus in the days of His flesh broke so many stony hearts, and afterwards completely bent even the stiffnecked Pharisee of Tarsus?

Application.—It is good policy as well as a prime duty of religion to have the tongue under control. For, supposing I would persuade a man in power to a certain view or course of action to which he is opposed, shall I be likely to conquer his opposition by passionate and offensive words? Not so, surely; rather, thus, to intensify it. Or suppose I am before a judge or arbitrator, will he think the better or the worse of my case if I insist upon my rights intemperately? Nay, even a good cause will thus appear to disadvantage. Whereas, by quiet decision, and patient, gentle forbearance, the other may come gradually round to my views, at least respect them. No good is ever effected by a sharp, bitter, ungoverned tongue. But a soft tongue—not wheedling or cajoling—but gentle and yet firm, will often prevail over prejudice and overcome opposition. This is a proverbial truth which has become universal. There is a Latin saying that “a drop hollows a stone.” The Germans say that “Patience breaks iron.” A well-known Spanish monarch, noted for his astuteness, used to remark, “Time and I are two.” Let me, a Christian, remember how the calm Jesus calmed the storm. His reproofs were always administered at the fittest time and in the fittest words. In the days of His flesh, as now, and as of old, the “still, small voice” prevailed more than the terrors of the law to melt men’s stony hearts. May it be given me to win stout hearts for Him by forbearing yet uncompromising accommodation to prejudice (2 Tim. 2:24, 26; 1 Cor. 9:20–23)!

May my own prayers succeed by the union of gentleness with perseverance!

October 2nd

Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it.”—25:16 (ver. 27; 24:13).

Interpretation.—To an Eastern palate honey is very delicious, and not only wholesome, but has medicinal virtue when taken in moderation. Taken in excess, it palls upon the appetite and is injurious to health. It was found in great abundance in Palestine, in woods and in rocks; hence the temptation here guarded against would be common. But honey may be understood as the symbol of pleasure, and then the caution has a far wider-reaching application.

Illustrations.—Jonathan and Samson both found honey; the one in the carcass of a dead lion (a most unusual place, for bees avoid dead carcasses), the other dropping from the trees; both ate of it in moderation. Happy for Samson had he been as moderate in other pleasures! Solomon himself took his fill of the good things of life (like Dives in the parable), and was nauseated in the end. The test applied to Gideon’s army, of those who only lapped in drinking (Judg. 7:5), illustrates the truth that we must use the world, not dote on it (1 Cor. 7:31), lapping its rivers of pleasure as we go, but not kneeling down to gulp them in.

Application.—The good God has seen fit to sweeten life with many pleasures. Of these we may partake, for “nothing” He offers “is to be refused.” But He would have us partake of them in moderation, specially of those which give us most pleasure. To secure this He has provided a penalty for immoderate indulgence. It cloys the appetite, nauseates the taste, and in time makes that revolting which was pleasurable. Let me take the hint without buying my experience. Or if I have ever bought it, let that one experience suffice. Of all animal enjoyments the truth of our proverb is unquestionable. Does it not apply also to worldly amusements and intellectual associations? Carried to excess, do they not sicken and weary (Rom. 6:21; Eccles. 12:12)? Is there not a very real danger lest “the heart be overcharged,” if not “with surfeiting and drunkenness,” at least “with cares of this life” (Luke 21:34)? Nay, is it not possible to be even “righteous overmuch” (Eccles. 7:16), in other words, to strain someone virtue to an extreme? Is there not a temptation so to dip into mysteries as to be wise above that which is written? All excess even of good things is an abuse, and the boundary line is so slight that I have need to be much on my guard. Only in the sweetness of Jesus shall I find no surfeit; or, if I could, this surfeit would be my health. He is that true manna whose taste is like honey—that more than “angels’ food,” given to the devout communicant.

October 3rd

Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbor’s house; lest he be weary of thee, and so hate thee.”—25:17.

Interpretation.—This is one application of the preceding proverb. Friendship is among the sweetest of earthly pleasures, but even that may cloy and turn to bitterness if not well regulated. Therefore the wise king’s “counsel” is to let our visits be “rare,” and so “precious” (cf. 1 Sam. 3:1), in order that our intercourse may not, by becoming troublesome, at last give offence, and be broken off in anger.

Illustrations.—Job’s three friends, by obtruding themselves inconsiderately upon his deep grief, and by their coarse freedom of speech, went the way to forfeit his friendship, and did certainly turn what might have been a comfort into an almost intolerable annoyance. The unjust judge (in the parable) betrays, by his irreligious speech, how irksome importunity may become; and the friend who would borrow at midnight is represented as receiving a rude repulse at the first and a grudging compliance at the last (Luke 18:5; 11:5–8). How different from Jesus Who, however weary, never sent away a suitor, never tired of His Apostles’ company, and, when the people pressed upon Him, only went into a boat that He might the better converse with them (Luke 5:1)!

Application.—St. Peter admonishes “Be courteous” (1 Epist. 3:8), and though the Bible lays down no minute rules, it furnishes general principles and examples as a guide to courtesy. Jesus was the most perfect model of courtesy the world ever saw. A general rule is given us in the text. Friendship, however close, ought never to presume or be presumed upon. It is even more advisable to be on one’s guard with a friend than with a stranger, since the temptation to be over free is greater, and there is more at stake. Now, wisdom and good manners alike deprecate intrusion upon a neighbor’s time and business. The most well-meaning may thus become troublesome, and at last receive a hint so broad as to terminate all intercourse. Visits sweet as honey when not too frequent, may be loathed if multiplied or ill-timed. That tact which is compounded of good sense, delicacy, and love ought to preserve me from such an error. It is best to be not too intimate with any. Safer to err on the side of reserve than to incur contempt by the opposite mistake. Better be blamed for rarity of visits than for over many. Better be wished back than away. Mutual respect is essential to true friendship. It is far otherwise with God. I cannot approach Him too often. The Friend of sinners will never weary of my importunity. Between the accepted soul and God no wall of partition exists. It has been broken down for ever by Him Who, as our Peace, hath made both one (Eph. 2:14). I may therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, and the oftener I come in the true spirit of prayer the more will my heavenly Friend be pleased.

October 4th

A man that beareth false witness against his neighbor is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow.”—25:18.

Interpretation.—In the original the order of the words is inverted, and the second clause of the sentence appears as a subscription under three murderous weapons. Each of the three is capable of inflicting not only ugly wounds but death. The “maul” or sledge-hammer may stun or crush. The “sword” may pierce or hew down. At close quarters these two weapons are used. But the “sharp arrow” which may kill or nearly so is aimed from a distance. Slander of every kind and degree is thus shown in its true colors, and the slanderer warned against as no better than a murderer in disguise.

Illustrations.—Potiphar’s wife imprisoned Joseph, and “the iron entered into his soul” (Ps. 105:18), on a maliciously trumped-up charge. The false witnesses against Naboth and our Blessed Lord were equally guilty of murder as the murderers themselves. In the case of the latter, “they swore a true falsehood and were truly forsworn.” David, as a type of Jesus, suffered cruelly at their hands who laid to his charge things that he knew not (Ps. 35:11).

Application.—The hideous consequences of slander revealing its true character are plainly set forth in Holy Scripture. Oftentimes they escape observation among men. The pitiable victim, stunned and wounded, is seen no more in public. He retires, it may be, to die alone, ruined in character, estate, and health. And that by a cruel calumny, whispered at first, bruited about afterwards, debated and then believed; its cowardly author self-hidden among the crowd. Could one but see the effects of such attacks in all their varied forms, would not the spectacle be an effectual cure of that inveterate tendency to damage the reputation of others which is born with us (Rom. 3:13) and only neutralized by grace? For could I bear to treat a brother as Jael Sisera, or Joab Abner—nay, worse than either? Not if I have in any measure “learned Christ.” If I cannot stop another’s mouth, let me at least stop my own—and my ears also. “The slanderer” (it has been well said) “wounds three at once—himself, the individual he speaks of, and whosoever hears him.” How awful to think that the tongue which ought to be a tree of life may become the instrument of torture and of death! For defamation, when it does not kill, leaves scars to the dying day. And worst of all is that kind of slander which cloaks itself under a religious profession, the slander which revolves around the shibboleth of a party.

O Lord, deliver my soul from lying lips, and enable me to “love the truth and peace” (Zech. 8:19)!

October 5th

Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint.”—25:19.

Interpretation.—As in the former proverb, the order of the two clauses is inverted in the original. This gives more point and expression to the comparison. “A broken (or decayed) tooth, a tottering foot, (so is) confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble.” You rely upon him only to find how unhelpful he is, and to be put to pain. Perhaps there may be special reference to an unfaithful messenger (ver. 13).

Illustrations.—Micah found the Levite, by whose aid he had set up a schismatical form of worship, as willing to leave him as he had been to be bought by him. How touching is St. Paul’s complaint of those who had come out to meet him before his trial, “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me” (2 Tim. 4:16)! Yet was this only the same trial the servant must expect to share with his Master, Who was thus deserted at the moment of His greatest need by all His disciples, and even by him who had made the warmest profession of loyalty.

Application.—“A faithful man who can find?” (20:6). Such men are undoubtedly rare, and he who finds one is to be congratulated. I must employ great caution, and only (as a rule) trust an individual upon knowledge, increasing or withdrawing my confidence as my experience of him guides me. Blindly and credulously to entrust a perfect stranger with my commissions will expose me to the pain and inconvenience of being deceived. Still more, to look to such a one, however plausible his professions, for sympathy and aid in a time of need, will be to subject myself to bitter disappointment. Exceptional cases do not furnish a rule. Moreover, an irreligious man is never to be depended on, for he who is unfaithful to his God is little likely to be faithful to a brother. As in the case of Micah’s Levite above referred to, he who was won with ten shekels may be lost for eleven. Let me choose the godly for my friends; with them the highest principle as well as the kindest hearts are to be found. But even in them it would not be right to trust implicitly, nay, a curse is denounced against “the man that trusteth in man” (Jer. 17:5). And not unfrequently the curse may take the form of bitter disappointment and loss through the human friend too implicitly leant upon. But God is a Friend who will never disappoint, “a very present help in time of trouble.” And “whoso feareth the Lord shall direct his friendship aright” (Ecclus. 6:17).

October 6th

As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to a heavy heart.”—25:20.

Interpretation.—Three incongruities are enumerated, the two first in order to expose the third. About the first there is a difference of opinion. Some critics understand it of removing a coat from one’s self or another just at a season when it, or even an additional one, is most needed. Others, translating the verb in another sense, bring out this meaning: “He that adorns himself,” or “tricks out a man in a gay dress in winter instead of a warm one.” Whichever rendering we adopt, an absurdity is exposed. To pour vinegar upon the alkaline substance here called “nitre,” would be to evaporate in effervescence its virtue, whereas the addition of oil or water would convert it into soap (Jer. 2:22). Equally incongruous and irritating would be the proceeding of one who, with ill-timed levity or lamentable want of judgment, should attempt to cheer a heavy heart by singing songs.

Illustrations.—Job tells us that in his misery his “harp” was “turned into mourning” and his “organ” into “the voice of them that weep” (ch. 30:31). Darius, in his distress and anxiety about Daniel, had no ear for instruments of music (Dan. 6:18). A constrained song gave a keen edge to the Babylonish affliction (Ps. 137:1–4).

Application.—To “weep with them that weep” is the Apostolic rule of sympathy (Rom. 12:15). But very different from this is that heartless or at the least ill-advised mode of dealing with a mourner here deprecated. Some unchastened spirits there are who treat life with all its solemn mysteries as a jest. They have never known sorrow, and cannot understand it in others. Accustomed to drown their own petty cares in boisterous merriment, this seems to them the panacea for every ill. They have no better remedy to advise or to apply. Yet what can be more ill-suited to a wounded heart or a diseased mind? To work upon the human spirit by violent transitions is, to say the least, unwise. To banish heart-grief by scenes of joviality were impossible. Rather would the contrast increase it by intensifying its bitterness. The cordial that shall revive the sorrow-stricken must draw its inspiration from above, not from below. Even “psalms,” the “songs of Zion,” are only recommended by an Apostle for the “merry” (Col. 3:16). For the sad, when these fail, resort must be had to the angelic song which brought “good news” to earth, and to that they still chant before the throne. Let me dread for myself the woe pronounced upon those reckless ones who only “laugh now” (Luke 6:25). Let me learn and cherish sympathy as taught by Jesus in His character of the Good Shepherd (Isa. 40:11) and the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:34).

October 7th

If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: for thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head and the Lord shall reward thee?”—25:21, 22.

Interpretation.—The duty enjoined is personal kindness to an enemy—to feed him with the tenderness of a nurse (Rom. 12:20, original). By so doing thou shalt effectually melt his hard heart. For,

“So artists melt the sullen ore of lead

By heaping coals of fire upon its head.”

Or, to employ another image, thy kind acts shall be like the “burning coals” of a divine vengeance (Hab. 3:5)—the noblest and best revenge for thee. And thy reward shall be of the Lord—to gain thy brother (Matt. 18:15), or, if not, “thou shalt be recompensed in the resurrection of the just.”

Illustrations.—David tried this method upon Saul, and not altogether unsuccessfully (1 Sam. 24). How noble was the revenge of Elisha—to provide a table for those who had provided a grave for him (2 Kings 6:21–23)! Those heads of the children of Ephraim who treated well the captives of war which Israel had taken from Judah in the reign of Ahaz, acted upon this injunction (2 Chron. 28:12). In the like spirit did the proto-martyr Stephen pray for his murderers, after the example of the Blessed Jesus.

Application.—One of the noblest victories of grace is to conquer revenge, so sweet to the natural heart. But the conquest is not complete unless for lurking hatred is substituted practical love. It is not enough to put off revenge, I must put on those Christian graces which culminate in “forgiving one another if any man have a quarrel against any” (Col. 3:12, 13). But this I shall hardly be able to do unless I am persuaded that Christ has forgiven me. To be assured of this will make it easy to forgive others. The commandment is no new one, but that which we had from the beginning (Exod. 23:4; John 13:34; 1 John 2:7); only the principle by which it is now enforced upon Christians is new. For are we not the disciples of Him who died for His enemies? Was not His cry from the cross, “Father, forgive them,” the key-note of a new life? Solomon’s “counsel” had become crusted over with human traditions, the teaching of human passion, and on it was written (as on a palimpsest), “Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy.” Jesus restored the original, and added the weight of His example. His Apostle rewrote it (Rom. 12:20). “Enemy” were a word unknown had not man fallen from his first estate.

October 8th

The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting” (or “secret”) “tongue” (or, “The north wind bringeth forth rain: so doth a backbiting tongue an angry countenance” margin).—25:23.

Interpretation.—The weight of criticism is in favor of the marginal reading here. But whichever we adopt, the meaning is much the same. The treatment a backbiter should receive at our hands is the point of the saying either way rendered. If the north wind driveth away rain, let an angry countenance frown him from our presence. If it brings the rain, let the very sight of him bring a frown of holy indignation to our brows.

Illustrations.—David must have intended to act upon this principle when, in framing rules for the government of his court, he wrote, “He that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight” (Ps. 101:7). On two occasions only is it recorded of Jesus that His countenance displayed anger, and in both cases it was “a secret tongue” which moved His displeasure—against the hypocritical conspirators who would have kept the sick from applying to Him for healing on the sabbath; against the disciples who would have kept back the little ones from His blessing (Matt. 12:10; Mark 3:5; 10:14).

Application.—“Backbiting” is a word which conveys its own meaning. The injury done is inflicted by words or gestures unknown to the party injured, perhaps the very opposite of professions made to his face. It may be directed against his character or his interests. Ziba would seem to have aimed his slander against both in the case of Mephibosheth. The Pharisees and the disciples in the cases just alluded to were bent (though from different motives) on withdrawing blessings from the sick and the young respectively by secret misrepresentation. Jesus frowned them away, and His example is to be followed. For if to speak evil is the first sin, the second which is like unto it is to hear evil. A backbiting tongue without an open ear would be a seed without soil. So then, when approached by one who, under whatever pretext, would secretly depreciate or injure another in my esteem, let my countenance “gather blackness” like the north wind. He who cannot frown on occasion will leave no mark on the world, nor will his smile have much value with those who know him. Let the backbiter be thus repulsed when he looks for itching ears, and he will not attempt to gain my ear again. Against the parasite who, to flatter me, would traduce another, let the gruff watch-dog of my honest pride be unleashed. Such anger is without sin, nay, not to be angry here would be to sin. Love wields it in defense of society and the Church, and for his sake who will, if tolerated, become a pest to both.

October 9th

A righteous man falling down before the wicked is as a troubled fountain, and a corrupt spring.”—25:26.

Interpretation.—Not of misfortune but of sin these words are spoken. It may be of such yielding, wavering, even cringing in the presence of a bad man, as, on the part of a good man, would indicate a sad want of moral courage. Or, worse still, of a positive slip into some gross inconsistency, or compromise of principle; or, worst of all, of apostacy. By any such “tottering at the feet of the wicked” in the person of a communicant, what grievous disappointment and damage is caused to the Lord’s people, to the Lord’s cause! ’Tis as though a way-worn traveler should find the fountain at which he had fondly hoped to quench his thirst turbid and defiled, or supplied from a vitiated spring.

Illustrations.—How degraded must Abraham and Sarah have been in their own eyes and in the eyes of others when they had incurred the merited reproof of a heathen king (Gen. 12:18–20; 20:10)! The inconsistencies of David and Solomon have made them a byword of reproach to this day, the one as “the wisest of men,” the other as “the man after God’s own heart.” St. Peter by his inconsistency more than once and spirit of compromise, still more Demas by his apostacy, must have grieved the hearts of the brethren (Matt. 26:69–72; Gal. 2:11–14; 2 Tim. 4:10).

Application.—A good man is properly “a well of life,” a blessing in the midst of the land (10:11). He ought to be a mirror of virtue. He is eyed by some as an example, by others to find occasion against him. Should he, through servility or fear, fall from his principles in their sight, how will the one rejoice, how will the other be scandalized! But what will be the effect on the Church of God? Surely that his influence for good will be lost (at least for a time), and the transparency of his profession blurred. Good men will mourn, crying, “Alas! my brother!” Satan will exult, for thus he makes more effective use of God’s people than of his own. The fountain that should have yielded fresh water will prove salt. The spring that was life-giving will be found tainted. Oh, let me cultivate that rare virtue of moral courage! Let me learn to say “No” boldly; to refuse to surrender a principle for gain or fear. “No man liveth unto himself.” My consistency or the reverse as a communicant, will affect the eternal destinies of not a few. By defection on my part who can say how many that are lame (yet might be healed) shall be turned out of the way (Heb. 12:13)? And, oh, what grief to my Lord when He is wounded in the house of His friends (Zech. 13:6)!

October 10th

It is not good to eat much honey: so for men to search their own glory is not glory.”—25:27.

Interpretation.—Critics are greatly divided about the meaning of this passage. By some a contrast is supposed between a surfeit of honey which is not good, and the searching (as in a mine) of man’s true glory which is his glory. By others an allusion is assumed to the mysteries of religion, which are sure to oppress and overpower by their glory. The objection to our own version is to the insertion of a “not” in the second clause. But inasmuch as many instances may be found in the Hebrew Scriptures to prove that “the most frequent ellipsis is of the negatives,” we need not forsake our version on that account. Or if so, a meaning more clear and more in harmony with the general tone of the Book than the proposed emendations may be obtained without the “not.” “To surfeit one’s self on honey is not good: so to search after one’s own glory is burdensome.”

Illustrations.—What was the end of the presumptuous Babel-builders’ search after their own glory? The renewal of their burden of building in the new homes they were obliged to find themselves. The Pharisees seeking glory of men subjected themselves to much trouble and disappointment, and remained under the burden of their sins. St. Paul felt it burdensome to be obliged to “boast,” though his aim was simply the glory of God through acceptance of His testimony (2 Cor. 12:1–11). Our Blessed Lord sought not His own glory (John 8:50), and whosoever cometh to Him shall find “rest” unto his soul.

Application.—It would be quite wrong to be indifferent what others think of me. The “don’t care” spirit is proverbially one that tends to ruin. But there is such a thing as “vain glory,” an insatiable appetite for applause and honor. This is not only wrong (Gal. 5:26; Phil. 2:3), but burdensome. It involves a great deal of trouble; efforts of a very despicable nature. There is the seeking great things for one’s self (Jer. 45:5); pandering to others’ tastes; listening for the breath of adulation; fishing for compliments; self-depreciation, with a subtle purpose. And when obtained, this glory, is it worth the cost? Is not the incense of flattery more nauseating than a surfeit of honey? Do I not weary of and despise it in my heart, those who offer it, and myself most of all? Better far that well-merited praise should come to me than be eagerly solicited and sought for. Best of all to “seek by patient continuance in well doing for glory, honor, and immortality,” the aim and inheritance of the wise and good (Rom. 2:7); to seek God’s glory (not my own); for “them that honoreth Me,” saith God Himself, “I will honor.”

October 11th

He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.”—25:28.

Interpretation.—This proverb is the counterpart of a former one (16:32). There we found the commendation of self-control. Here the evil effects of a want of it are set forth. The ungoverned man is compared to a city that has at some time been besieged, and whose walls are so impaired that it is as though without walls—no small disgrace in those days. Consequently, whoever will goes out of it, and there is no hindrance to any foe effecting an entrance.

Illustrations.—In the cases of Cain, of Esau, of Saul, how quickly did murderous resolves succeed to angry tempers! In David’s case the unresisted imagination of a moment, following upon a perilous self-indulgence in that respect (2 Sam. 5:13)—what a door to the ravages of sin did it open! How did Shimei’s uncontrolled tongue bring him into disgrace and blood upon his hoar hairs! Judas—would he have been possessed by Satan at last had he not “given place” to him for some time previously? On the other hand, what rule over her own spirit was shown by the Shunammite (2 Kings 4:26)! How free from murmuring was Abraham under the heart-rending command imposed upon him! What more than human dignity of self-control did Jesus display, as at all times, so before the high priest and Pilate!

Application.—We are not surprised to find in an animal a “creature of impulse,” but, surely, in a Christian something better may be looked for. Rightly interpreted of a man, the above designation means one who has abdicated his proper throne, and given the reins of government into the hands of another. He has voluntarily become the slave, the sport, of fancy, of passion, ay, of Satan himself. Or, to employ the wise king’s figure, he has thrown open the fortress of his soul to every invader. To him there is no security against insult, and no sin is impossible. All good may forsake—all evil may enter into him. And can this be the theme of a jest, an apology, a boast? Nay, surely, he knows not what he says who proclaims himself “a creature of impulse”! Be it mine to guard that citadel which is the depository of my most precious hopes. Self-control must be learnt in early years. It should be practiced about small things that it may be applied to great ones. It lies not in man himself, but only in man as found in Christ Jesus. If broken down, let me build it up again, as Nehemiah the walls of Jerusalem, with the weapons of faith and of prayer (Neh. 4:17). And let my prayer be (the opposite of St. Peter’s)—

Draw near and take possession of me, “for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8)!

October 12th

“As snow in summer, and as rain in harvest, so honor is not seemly for a fool. As he that bindeth a stone in a sling, so is he that giveth honor to a fool.”—26:1, 8.

Interpretation.—The incongruity and mischief of putting a fool (i.e. a boldly impious man) into a position of dignity and influence is here set forth by two similitudes. It is as though snow and rain were to come each at an unsuitable and unwelcome time—snow in the hot summer, rain in the harvest-time. Or, again, as though one were to put a gem into a sling, so that it should be thrown utterly away. Some critics prefer the marginal reading, “As he that putteth a precious stone in an heap of stones.” Whichever we adopt, the meaning is the same. Incongruity, mischief, loss, are the points indicated.

Illustrations.—The party who yielded to Korah the honor due only to the priesthood, and they who made the base-born son of Gideon king (Judg. 9:6), were both guilty of this mistake as the results proved. Joel and Abiah, raised unwisely to the office of the judge, only brought discredit on their appointment and did harm in the congregation (1 Sam. 8:1–5). Haman was promoted quite unworthily to high power, which he would have misused as a madman a sword or a pistol.

Application.—It is not to be denied that too often “folly is set in great dignity” (Eccles. 10:6). God allows this for the punishment of nations and communities. But where men have a hand in bringing it about (though unconsciously His instruments), their unwisdom becomes sooner or less patent. The “fool” advanced to unmerited honor becomes intolerable in his self-sufficiency and arrogance. Clothed with authority, he wantonly misuses his power to the hurt of others. Entrusted with responsibility, he is found utterly wanting to his duties. All who are not sycophants, becoming aware of his incompetency, despise him. He is compelled at times to feel how totally out of place he is. What ought to have been for his advantage is found to have been thrown away upon him. His glory becomes his shame. Let me beware of ever accepting or allowing an office to be thrust upon me for which I am not fit. Should I find myself through circumstances placed in a responsible position for which I have neither the knowledge nor the ability, let me as gracefully as possible retire from it, devolving its duties upon those who are more competent. In some cases the bodily, in other cases the spiritual, well-being of my fellow-creatures may be seriously affected by my clinging to a post for which I am unqualified. Let me endeavor that only suitable men may be raised to power! Let me join in the Ember prayer that the bishops may “lay hands suddenly on no man!”

October 13th

As the bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come.”—26:2.

Interpretation.—This saying is susceptible of more meanings than one, but the general purport is clear. The causeless curse may be compared to the vague flight of the sparrow, to the aimless wheelings of the swallow; it shall no more alight where its imprecator intended, than such birds settle according to their direction. Or (if we follow another version) “it shall come to him”—shall return to its author. A causeless curse falls on the head of the curser. On the other hand, if not causeless, it will come.

Illustrations.—Goliath cursed David by his gods, and Shimei long afterwards cursed him. But in neither case did the malediction light upon his head, but rather returned upon the heads of those who uttered them. To Jeremiah gracious promises were given from heaven in exchange for men’s cursing (Jer. 15:10, 11). But Jotham’s curse upon Abimelech, and Joshua’s upon Jericho, and Elisha’s upon the young reprobates of Bethel, not being causeless, did, in the Providence of God, take effect (Judg. 9:7, etc.; Josh. 6:26; 2 Kings 2:24), while Balaam’s unmerited curse was warded off.

Application.—Groundless fears are real evils, and often press heavily on sensitive minds. Thus, the mere fact of a malediction having been muttered, however undeserved, has occasioned real apprehension. But it is well to remember that it is in no human being’s power to inflict a curse upon another. His words must be ratified in heaven or ever they can take effect. Who can curse whom God hath not cursed? Evils, natural and moral, owe not their being to chance. The Omniscient One, without Whom not even a sparrow falls to the ground, will much more take care of His redeemed ones. Therefore, let no one be afraid of the causeless imprecations of the wicked. They shall be averted; yea, turned into blessings, according to the Psalmist’s prayer, “Though they curse, yet bless Thou” (Ps. 109:28). He who presumes to intrude thus into God’s prerogative is (in Scripture language) “a fool.” In his rage against another he may be pouring maledictions upon himself. He may be an unconscious prophet of ill to himself. For doubtless there is some foundation for the popular proverb that “Curses, like young chickens, always come home to roost.” How awful the thought that there are men who imagine that a position of authority gives them the privilege of cursing right and left! That there have been those whose dying lips have invoked a causeless curse! Rather let me imitate Him whose brief career upon earth began and ended with blessing. And—

Oh to escape the anathema pronounced against all who, professing to be Christians, love not the Lord Jesus Christ!

October 14th

A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back.”—26:3 (10:13; 19:29).

Interpretation.—The ass referred to was a far superior animal to ours; more ready to go, and more fleet than the horse of those days. Hence, while the one would need the whip to accelerate its pace, the other would rather require restraint and guidance than a stimulant. So are there some “fools” who require to be excited to duty, and others who must be checked from running stiffneckedly into evil. Correction at the hands, whether of God or man, is necessary for all who will not be ruled by reason or persuasion, who are impervious to religious motives.

Illustrations.—The Pharaoh of Moses’ time is an instance of an obstinate, self-willed “fool,” who withstood God’s judgment and perished accordingly. Gideon, with scourges made of thorns and briars, “threshed” the men of Succoth to teach them loyalty (Judg. 8:7–16). Manasseh, on the contrary, taken with a hook passed through his nose (2 Chron. 33:11 (literally); cf. 2 Kings 19:28), and so brought before his conqueror, did “hear” and “kiss” God’s rod.

Application.—That man is born like the wild ass’s colt is a Scriptural truth (Job 11:12). That some, through God’s grace, become tamed and trained to His service is a matter of experience and observation. That some need rather to be stirred up than tamed is also a truth. Grace, by imparting a new nature, ought to quicken us in God’s ways, even as the thoroughbred horse needs only the shadow of the whip, while another will be hardly roused by spurs. Jesus foretold the breaking-in of the human race by symbolically riding upon and gently subduing to His will a young ass or colt “upon which never man had sat” (Matt. 21:7; Mark 11:2). Thus was the great Apostle of the Gentiles, and through him the Gentile world, reduced by the “rod of His power” from the folly of pride to the meekness of humble faith. And thus have men, “sometimes foolish” (Titus 3:3), become “wise unto salvation” under the wholesome discipline of the cross. But still “the rod” is needed by all who are slothful or contumacious. Whether “fools” or not, if we act the part of fools, a sore chastening will be ours. Sometimes it is administered through men. There is the parental, the ecclesiastical, the magisterial “rod.” Or God takes it into His own hands, and we are chastened with losses, disappointments, sicknesses, or other earthly trials, to the end that we “may not be condemned with the world” (1 Cor. 11:32). It is true wisdom to chasten ourselves, to “keep under” this body, so animal, so rebellious, and “bring it into subjection.” And, still more, to pray—

Correct me, Lord, in any way that seemeth good to Thee, so that I may not “die as a fool dieth”!

October 15th

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.”—26:4, 5.

Interpretation.—These two “counsels” do not contradict one another. Each is wise and good under the circumstances for which it is intended. A fool (i.e. a scoffer) is never to be answered in the tone of his remarks, and there are occasions when he is best met with silence. To bandy words with him, to render “railing for railing,” will be only to imitate his folly. But if it should seem expedient to answer him, then let it be done, not in his foolish manner, but in the manner his foolishness requires. Confute him upon his own principles. Make his own mouth condemn him. So shall he not imagine that to be unanswered is to be unanswerable, and grow more conceited, and do the more harm with his tongue.

Illustrations.—Even the meek Moses, when dealing with “fools,” spake once “unadvisedly with his lips.” Job, on the other hand, put down the petulancy of his wife by a grave, convincing, silencing rejoinder. Our Blessed Lord was alike instructive as our Pattern by His silence and by His answers. The former always conveyed a dignified rebuke. The latter refuted effectually the sophistries of His captious enemies (Matt. 16:1–4; 21:23–27, 22:46; 26:62, 63; 27:14; Luke 13:17).

Application.—That there is “a time to speak, and a time to keep silence” (Eccles. 3:7), is specially true of controversies about religion. On sacred themes (as on secular) “a fool can ask more than ten wise men can answer.” And often it is wisest not to attempt an answer lest we expose our own ignorance and unwisdom. Never can it be wise to answer in a flippant or an abusive manner. Nor can we hope to repress an irreligious prater by opposing to his discourse religious sentiments which he repudiates. This would be to “cast pearls before swine.” At times, however, it may be a duty not to allow an injurious remark to pass by. We may be bound, as Christians, to meet it with a grave protest; if possible, to expose its fallacy. What wisdom is needed for Wisdom’s children to justify her before men! I must ask for this “of Him who giveth liberally.” As in my daily prayers, so at the moment when most needed, I must study so as to be able to give an answer to the opponents of the faith. I must cultivate the spirit of love, that spirit which would rather win a soul than silence an adversary. A civil answer to a rude speech costs not much and is worth a great deal. If I must rebuke, let the archangel be my model (Jude 9). But if I may preserve a grave, significant silence, it is often far better.

October 16th

He that sendeth a message by the hand of a fool cutteth off the feet, and drinketh damage.”—26:6 (10:26; 13:17)

Interpretation.—In its general meaning this saying speaks for itself. A “fool,” whether through wickedness, indiscretion, dilatoriness, or all combined, makes a bad messenger. He who sends a message by him takes measure (as it were) to prevent that message fulfilling its purpose. He cuts off its feet (so to speak); or his own, which he thinks to supplement. His message miscarries; is not delivered, or else spoilt in the delivery; and so, instead of being refreshed (25:13) he has to swallow “damage” (original “sourness”), some great injury or annoyance, all the worse for being in some sort chargeable to his own misjudgment.

Illustrations.—The unbelieving spies, through their discontent and murmuring, wrought grievous hurt to Israel. Little did Benhadad dream of the damage he should drink at the hands of Hazael, that disloyal messenger (2 Kings 8:8–15). More terrible still is the injury done to the cause of God and of souls when His messengers (Jonah-like) shirk their duty altogether; or when they deliver a garbled message (2 Cor. 11:4). Well might St. Paul warn bishops to “lay hands suddenly on no man” (1 Tim. 5:22).

Application.—There are many kinds and degrees of messengers, from the ambassador down to the errand boy. But of each one conscientiousness is required, and the office is a responsible one. It is the mark of a fool to think scorn of his responsibilities; thus his conscience becomes “seared.” But a true Christian will make duty his loadstar, and aiming at being “faithful in that which is least, will be faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10). Nay, who can say what is least or greatest, or what heavy consequences may not flow from a dereliction of duty which appears slight? If I have a message to deliver, be it from a monarch or from a peasant, I ought equally to take pains to deliver it with dispatch and accuracy and grace. Through messages being too often misunderstood, or half-forgotten, or awkwardly given, they have become almost proverbially unsafe vehicles of communication. Have I not often wished that I had gone myself instead of (as it were) cutting off my legs by employing a very lame substitute? Have I not smarted through the consequences of a message so ill delivered as to be quite misunderstood? Then let me do to others as I would be done by. And in selecting agents, let it be my care to secure right heads and hearts and hands. And should the Great Message from the King of kings to men have been entrusted to my charge, oh, how careful should I be so to deliver it that it may reflect glory upon Him Who sent it and fulfil its purpose for them to whom it is sent!

October 17th

The legs of the lame are not equal: so is a parable in the mouth of fools. As a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard, so is a parable in the mouth of fools.”—26:7, 9.

Interpretation.—Various are the renderings of the above, but in each case the general meaning is the same. Whether we read, “Take away the legs of the lame,” as of no use; or, “The legs dangle down from the lame man,” are so weak that he cannot walk straight; or “are not equal,” so that he limps; there is an obvious application to the feeble, inconsistent, ludicrous character an authoritative, weighty saying has in the month of a notoriously silly or bad man. Again, whether the thorn be “lifted up in the hand” of the drunkard to hurt others, as well, perchance, as himself; or whether it “pierce” his own hand unconsciously, thus inflicting the more injury; the incapacity of a fool for dealing with keen-edged, incisive sayings is equally well set forth.

Illustrations.—How lamentably inconsistent in the mouth of the unrighteous Balaam was the “parable” he took up! How little did they know the meaning of their own words who applied in their hearts to Jesus the proverbial saying, “Physician, heal thyself” (Luke 4:23)! The Jews of Ezekiel’s time, did they not so foolishly misapply a proverb as to call for divine expostulation (Ezek. 18:2, etc.)? Doth not the devil himself misquote Scripture; and have not “unlearned and unstable” men in all ages wrested the Scriptures in their folly unto their own destruction (2 Pet. 3:16)?

Application.—As a good thing may be spoilt in the using, so words, however good and wise, lose their point and beauty when spoken unintelligently, or by one whose speech is contradicted by his life. A parable in the mouth of a fool becomes a jest—does not “run on all fours,” as we say. Still worse if a scoffer propound a religious sentiment, or one who would satirize another’s failings only succeed in calling attention to his own. There have been those (are they not still to be found?) of whom it was said, “They spake like angels, lived liked devils; had heaven commonly on their tongues’ end, but the world at their finger ends.” Better, far better, for a lame man to sit still, for a fool to hold his tongue, than expose himself and the truths he handles to contempt. I can see this when I look abroad; let me also look at home. Would I speak well upon any subject—specially would I teach others divine wisdom,—I must first master it myself. Wit has two edges, and is dangerous when handled clumsily. Religious truth condemns where it does not save.

October 18th (F. St. Luke, Changelist)

Whoso keepeth the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof: so he that waiteth on his master shall be honored.”—27:18.

Interpretation.—The fig tree in Judæa is so abundant, that for its fruit to fail was a severe judgment (Joel 1:6, 7; Hab. 3:17). The diligent husbandman would have his reward in being partaker of its fruits (2 Tim. 2:6). Even so, the faithful servant who “guardeth or observeth” his master, shall reap the fruits of his diligence in honor, confidence, reward, advancement—probably, if a slave, in his liberation. And this applies to the service of the heavenly even more than of an earthly master.

Illustrations.—Eliezer, Deborah, Joseph, the steward, the nurse, the slave, all attained to honor through faithful service (Gen. 24:12–15, 45, 50; 35:8; 37; 39; 41). Elisha, who had persevered in watchful attendance on his master, was rewarded by a double portion of his spirit. The centurion’s servant, and the devout soldier who waited on Cornelius continually, had each his reward in the attachment and good offices of those they served (Luke 7:2, 8; Acts 10:7, 24, 48). St. Luke (whose day we are keeping) became St. Paul’s loving and beloved attendant even to the end of his afflictions (2 Tim. 4:11), and, in return, profited by his art of healing souls, derived from him aid in his immortal book as an Evangelist, had the privilege of constant communion with his spirit, and was honored in his own lifetime, as now, by his praise being in the Gospel, and by becoming (whether a slave or not) “the Lord’s free man” (1 Cor. 7:22).

Application.—Never let the humblest service be despised, for, if faithfully rendered, it shall have its reward, if not at the hands of man, yet of God. A good master will thoroughly appreciate and not forget to acknowledge the trusty watchful care of an attached servant. He will employ him confidentially, increase his wages, advance him to honor. Or if some earthly masters are strangely neglectful of what is due to their servants, not so the Master Christians delight to serve. Himself a pattern servant (of His own free will) to His Father, “faithful to Him that appointed Him” (Heb. 3:2), and therefore “highly exalted” (Phil. 2:9), there is no duty rendered Him on our part which He sees not, acknowledges not, crowns not. He demands no work but what is due; sends no one a warfare on his own charges; is large in His promises; smiles upon active fidelity. The most ordinary calling is a service to Him, however mean. The common task of daily life done “as unto the Lord” is the best proof of our love. From Him will our fruits be found (Hos. 14:8).

October 19th

The great God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth transgressors.”—26:10.

Interpretation.—No proverb of Solomon’s has caused so much division of opinion as this one. To enumerate the various versions of it would only perplex the reader. Suffice it, that as it stands in our text it is quite irreconcilable with the original. Nor is the marginal rendering much to be preferred. The best critics are divided between the two following, either of which renders good “counsel.” “As the archer that woundeth every one, so is he who hireth the fool, and he who hireth every passer-by (or vagrant).” Or this, “A skilful man, or master workman, may produce or form anything, but he that hireth a fool hireth vagabonds.” The warning seems to be in either case against the danger and folly of employing at random any sort of agents for a work which, under proper supervision, may be well executed.

Illustrations.—Out of Gideon’s whole body of recruits there was found an immense majority, who, though hired for war, would have proved unfit and therefore injurious in the day of battle (Judg. 7). Solomon exemplified the second of these two precepts in his own person by sending to Tyre to fetch Hiram to be his master workman, for making the holy vessels of the Temple (1 Kings 7:13, 40). Those ill-affected Jews at Thessalonica, who seem to have hired “loose fellows, loiterers in the market-place,” to create an uproar against St. Paul (Acts 17:5), did they not resemble the archer shooting at random, who woundeth everybody while aiming at some one?

Application.—Too much care cannot be taken in the selection of agencies of whatever kind. It should be made a matter of conscience on the part of any one in authority of whatever degree. For what untold mischief may be the result should matter of grave moment be entrusted to men who are incompetent or of bad repute! As envoys, they may embroil nations in war; as overseers of property, strikes and imbroglios may result from their administration; as ministers of religion or teachers, their influence may be most destructive. Let me lay this to heart, and in any appointment I may have a hand in making beware of accepting any one who may offer, and make the choice of fit men a subject of prayer and inquiry. And if the matter be one that concerns myself only, it will be my interest to choose “a skilful man” to do the work at a higher rate of payment, rather than one of those vagrant workmen who are dear at any price. Or it may not be amiss to remember that a wise man will rather do his work himself than put it into the hands of fools who may mar it all. In good work done for God there breathes an inspiration from above (Exod. 36:1).

October 20th

“As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.”—26:11.

Interpretation.—St. Peter styles this a “true proverb,” because it is a simile drawn from fact. The dog is known to be guilty of the disgusting conduct here imputed to him. Disgusting, indeed, but not so much so as that of a whilom reformed sinner who, after parting with a sin as loathsome (under the wholesome medicine of the Gospel), returns to it with avidity and makes it his own again.

Illustrations.—By the Jewish Rabbis Orpah was considered to be a type of “the bestial soul returning to the mire.” Ahab, after a superficial repentance, during which he had appeared to mourn for sin, attached himself as openly as ever to the priests of Baal (1 Kings 21:27; 22:6–8). Demas, having professedly renounced, went back into the world where his heart always was. Our Lord describes the state of a man who, having got rid of the unclean spirit, afterwards welcomes him back with seven more into his vacant heart (Matt. 12:46). The wise king portrays the drunkard as seeking yet again that of which he knows too well the baneful effects (23:35).

Application.—From Solomon’s armory an Apostle has borrowed this ancient weapon; and used it, coarse as it is, without apology, or any softening of its serrated edge. He utters “a certain sound” thereby, and God intended it should be so since the thing represented is in truth far more odious than this comparison. God would have us loathe sin as He does, for what is so loathsome? Into what has it transformed man, made in his Creator’s image? The promise was, “Ye shall be as gods;” the result is, that too often we become “as beasts.” Yea, worse than the brute creation, for they cannot but blindly follow their own instincts, whereas the man who deliberately returns to the sin he confessed, was absolved from, renounced, does violence to conscience and flies in the face of love. The case supposed is of one who has acquired a knowledge of the truth and come under the terrors of the law, and smarted from the consequences of his own folly. He is convinced, but not converted; alarmed, but not grieved; constrained by fear of the Judge, but not by love of the Redeemer. Hence his repentance is only skin-deep. The roots of his nature still dip into the world, and as soon as he ventures among its old temptations again a dreadful process of “plaiting” (2 Pet. 2:21) recommences, and he is dragged down lower than before.

O God, give me nothing short of “a clean heart,” my own true need, Thine own true remedy, that I turn not again unto folly!

October 21st

Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.”—26:12.

Interpretation.—By “a fool” is still to be understood one who is morally, rather than intellectually, unwise. The case of such a one is almost desperate (27:22); yet (says the wise king) is there more hope of him than of a man who is puffed up with self-conceit, because the latter has closed the door of improvement upon himself.

Illustrations.—Our Blessed Lord applied this truth to the Pharisees of His own day directly and by parables. He told them—He who alone could know—that the publicans and harlots went into the kingdom of God before them (Matt. 21:31). He warned them that in their very boast, “we see,” their assumption that they needed no new light upon the Scriptures, lay their self-condemnation, for this made it impossible for them to perceive that those very Scriptures testified of Him (John 9:41; 5:39). In His parable of the publican and Pharisee He illustrated the fatal difference between one who continues to be “pure in his own eyes” (30:12) and one who, though “in the greatness of his folly he (has gone) astray” (5:23), is yet capable of humility and of repentance. His message to the Laodicean Church was, in like manner, a caution against the extreme danger of self-righteousness (Rev. 3:17, 18).

Application.—A fault to which God so pointedly and solemnly calls attention is not to be lightly passed over. Its germ may commonly be detected very early, and should be eradicated, if possible. It is cruel indulgence to a child to wink at self-conceit—how much more to foster it in him! To teach him self-knowledge should be the aim, since this lays the axe to the root of self-sufficiency. Contact and competition with his superiors will, to some extent, do this, and correct a natural tendency to an opinionative, dogmatic, censorious disposition, fatal to real self-improvement. But this is not enough. Humility is a flower of grace, to be culled only in the Garden of Gethsemane. I must descend thither myself, and lead others there, if I would learn and teach that lesson of sin’s true nature which, once learnt of “the Man of sorrows,” chastens the whole tone of life. Hope in Christ is founded on despair of self. To cease to seem to be wise I must become a fool (1 Cor. 3:18). Becoming a fool in my own eyes I become truly wise. Intellect, learning, wealth, all that tends to elate the spirit, is laid at the feet of Jesus. What hope for him who clings to the Savior! But whom God leaves because he would stand alone, his case may become incurable.

Lord, clothe me with Thy humility from head to foot!

October 22nd

“As the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the slothful upon his bed.”—26:14 (6:10; 24:33).

Interpretation.—The first idea suggested by this comparison is of limited motion. The door can only turn within a certain space; even so the lover of sleep confines his movements to his bed. When others are going forth to their honest work (24:27; Ps. 104:23), his lazy work consists in a restless tossing to and fro upon the couch whereon he has already slept his sleep. He lies on one side; wearies of that; at last makes up his mind to turn to the other. But this is the utmost exertion he is capable of, and is not made without grumbling, even as the door creaks while it moves slowly and is not removed.

Illustrations.—Saul and his guards, by sleeping when they should have watched, made the way open to David, had he been thus minded, to slay his enemy (1 Sam. 26:7). Samson forfeited the secret of his strength by giving way to unmanly ease (Judg. 16:19). The Apostles lost the opportunity of showing sympathy with their Lord in His agony by dropping off to sleep again and again. Frequent warnings against spiritual sloth fell from His lips Whose laborious days were succeeded often by nights of prayer.

Application.—How often does the wise king warn against the canker of sloth as eating out the heart of business, yea, of life! Nor are his warnings to be confined to the mere physical act of sleeping. To over-indulgence in this some are more constitutionally inclined than others. But some also need more sleep than others, so that a hard and fast rule for all can scarcely be laid down. To every one’s conscience it must be left to decide how far time may be economized without loss in the long run. ’Tis vain to boast of early rising if this one act of self-denial be compensated by acts of self-indulgence in the course of the day. Better to complete my slumbers at once than be drowsy afterwards when I ought to be wide awake. We cannot all follow the maxim of our great duke, that “when it is time to turn, it is time to turn out.” But, as a rule, when the hour of work is come the couch should be quitted at once. To remain, considering about it, is to court the return of sleep. Such a habit will surely lead to dilatoriness and sloth, impairing the whole character. Not the health of the body and mind only, but, worse still, of the soul, is injured by too much sleep. Heaven is not for those who dream, but who strive. If I hang like a door upon two hinges, the world and the flesh, I shall never advance. I may go to and fro in a treadmill of formal duties, but get no nearer God.

October 23rd

The slothful hideth his hand in his bosom; it grieveth him to bring it again to his mouth.”—26:15 (19:24).

Interpretation.—The best critics are agreed upon another rendering of these words. The word translated “bosom” means “dish.” The word for “hideth” may signify “dippeth or thrusteth into.” We get thus, “A slothful man dippeth his hand into the dish.” It is a picture of an Eastern meal, where the guests help themselves out of the same dish, with their fingers. The proverb is a hyperbole to express the lethargic state at which a sluggish man may arrive. “It wearies him” to take the trouble to help himself to his food.

Illustrations.—Our Lord’s description of the slothful servant aptly illustrates the foregoing. This man had money put into his hand. Without any trouble on his part, the capital was his to manipulate for his master’s (and, as it turned out, for his own) interests. What does he do? Having received this money, he will not so much as handle it, will not be at the least pains even to “put it to the exchangers,” but rids himself of it (so to speak) by consigning it to a hole in the ground. To be deprived of all that he has and might have had is the fate of this slothful servant; to lament too late, with tears and gnashing of teeth, the loss of his opportunities.

Application.—The case described by Solomon may seem an impossible, as doubtless it is an extreme case. But the danger of a certain course is often best learnt by observing to what it may lead if pursued far enough. That indolent habits may result in a state of moral, mental, and physical torpor, is a sad but certain truth. The self-indulgent may arrive at a point when the least exertion becomes irksome, and at last impossible. There have been those who through sheer laziness have spent the best part of their lives in bed. There have been those who, rather than give themselves trouble, have been resigned to starve. A sluggard is proverbially a fool, and will run risks and incur penalties in the vain hope of immunity. It will be my wisdom steadily to resist all inroads of a taste for ease; sternly to refuse the whispered counsel, “Spare thyself;” bravely to “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Slothful habits impair the faculties, destroy the will, enervate the character, palsy the spiritual life. It is not uncommon for one who has stretched forth the hand for the crown offered to “him that overcometh,” to lose it through subsequent supineness.

Oh, to escape the “woe” denounced against “those that are at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1), and win the prize, the glorious prize, of them that “strive”!

October 24th

The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason.”—26:16.

Interpretation.—The term “sluggard” is not to be limited to one who loves sleep, but applies to all who shirk labor of whatever description. Such men have excuses to offer (reasons, as they would say) for their indolent habits, which, though opposed by the good sense of mankind, appear quite satisfactory to themselves. “Seven” is a round number of plurality (ver. 25; 24:16; 6:31); and “men who can render a reason,” or “give a right judgment,” are wise men or counsellors. Lazy persons, who read and think the least, are generally those who talk the most, and who are quite indifferent to the judgment of their betters.

Illustrations.—A cowardly slothfulness was at the bottom of that opposition to the united wisdom of Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, which deterred the Israelites at the first from going forward to the conquest of Canaan (cf. Judg. 18:9). Not all the reasons St. Paul and his fellow-Apostles could render would have induced the pleasure-loving, gossiping Athenians to give serious attention to the new revelation declared unto them. Among the converts of Thessalonica were found those who, “not working at all,” were yet “busy bodies,” rating their own judgment high enough to give them a claim to interfere with other people’s affairs (2 Thess. 3:11).

Application.—The wisest of men calls in the aid of satire to put the drones of society to shame. But even this weapon is too often powerless against their sleek self-complacency. Still, it may deter one from giving way to habits of sloth to see what the result is, and how it strikes others. The mind, like the bodily limbs, through disuse, becomes torpid, or at least unhealthily out of gear. A kind of creeping paralysis enfeebles its action. It is found incapable of seeing more than one side of a question, and that the side to which an inclination which has become paramount gives an altogether undue weight. Thus, the lover of sleep will repel his best friends with feigned arguments, which to him have the force of truth (ver. 13). The hater of study will find reasons to prove his own case an exceptional one, in spite of all that can be alleged from a more far-seeing point of view. In conversation, too, let rash statements be made or conclusions drawn by one who has never taken the trouble to read or to think, and not all your philosophers would dislodge him from them—were it thought worth while to try.

Oh, shall I not shun so pitiable an example, and make the most of the powers God has given me, that I become not an object to be let alone of men—cut down by God—a cumberer of the ground?

October 25th

He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears.”—26:17.

Interpretation.—The similitude is very plain. A man who takes a strange dog by the ears (above all, one that is quarrelling with another) soon finds out that he has done a rash and foolish thing. For whether he retain his hold or let go, the risk is the same to him. Even so, one who as a passer-by “gets excited over” a dispute which concerns him not, plunges into a hazardous dilemma. For if he favor one of the parties he embroils himself with the other, and if he pronounce both to blame he draws down upon himself the indignation of both. For few men can brook either opposition or aid under such circumstances, so that what is offered is likely to be as repugnant to the one as to the other. The proverb receives additional force from the fact that most cities of the East are to this day infested by a race of half-wild dogs.

Illustrations.—Moses, though acting from high and heroic motives, found a very ungrateful return for his interference on behalf of his brethren (Exod. 2:11, etc.; Acts 7:23–29). Jesus, though pre-eminently the Peacemaker (Matt. 18:1–6; 20:24–28), declined to interfere in a dispute which did not concern Him (Luke 12:13, 14).

Application.—How much wisdom is needed for every step taken in our journey as wayfarers through life! I need time and judgment, above all, prayer, lest, while aiming to do right, I do foolishly. For instance, I would gladly win the blessing promised to “the peacemakers” by my Lord. Yet must I beware lest, by ill-timed or unwarrantable intervention in other men’s matters, I only embitter strife and bring scandal and wrath upon myself. There is a vast difference between suffering as a busybody and as a Christian (1 Pet. 4:15, 16). It is one thing to volunteer my good offices where they ought to be acceptable for the composing of a difference, and quite another thing to rush in excitedly between two exasperated parties and pronounce a judgment, ill-informed and unasked, to the annoyance of one party or of both. Rather let me ask myself, “Who made me a judge or a divider over you?” Against such rash conduct as this, whether it arise from indiscreet zeal, the hope of gain, or, worse still, from love of meddling and of controversy, the wise king counsels in the text. Exceptional cases may, indeed, arise where a prompt interference is called for. But, as a rule, the heat of passion should be allowed to cool before even an attempt to mediate is made. And when made it should be in the spirit of humility, love, and prayer, not counting either as an enemy, but entreating him as a brother.

October 26th

As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death, so is the man that deceiveth his neighbor, and saith, Am not I in sport?”—26:18, 19.

Interpretation.—We have here the case of a man who practices a deceit upon his neighbor, and afterwards excuses it as a joke. The consequences may be as disastrous to the other as missiles which wound and kill when thrown about wildly by a madman. Yet in the latter case there is excuse, in the former none; but in proportion as truth has been violated and malice indulged is there sin against God and against the neighbor.

Illustrations.—The first sin was committed under a deceit, and again it was sought to palm off a deceit upon the Second Adam (Matt. 4:8) by that evil spirit to whom wickedness has become as sport. Did Abner reck of the consequences when he proposed to Joab that the young men should arise and “play” before them (2 Sam. 2:14)? An Apostle speaks of “jesting which is not convenient” (Eph. 5:4), and another of Christians “sporting themselves with their own deceivings”—a black blot on their profession (2 Pet. 2:13).

Application.—There are many degrees of jesting, and a point beyond which it ceases to be innocent or harmless. There are practical jokes and hoaxes which, if they wound the feelings, or damage the reputation, or injure the property, are a sin against a brother, and however they may be laughed off, are no laughing matter to him. When these are practiced upon the weak and inexperienced, there is a meanness, a cowardice, a selfishness in the sport thus made, which, when their eyes are opened, will strike with confusion the perpetrators of such one-sided fun. But the wickedness is still more enhanced when there is a sinister object in view, some dishonest or malicious end to be gained, and when the pitiful excuse, “Am not I in sport?” is made by one who professed to be a friend. Such friends are worse than maniacs. Let me keep clear of them. Never let me lend myself to a scheme, however mirthfully proposed, which will inflict upon another what I should not deem him justified in inflicting upon myself. Such a rule will not exclude all harmless jocularity. They that are wise must “suffer fools,” must not be too easily hurt (2 Cor. 11:19). But it will exclude everything that is unkind—whatever must needs wound. And Christian principle will further require that even in diversions truth be held sacred, and no scandal set afloat. For nothing can palliate sin. He that hath slight thoughts of sin had never (for certain) great thoughts of God.

Lord, grant me grace to be wise as well as merry, by ever remembering Thee and Jerusalem the Holy City in my mirth!

October 27th

Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no tale-bearer, the strife ceaseth. As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife.”—26:20, 21 (16:28).

Interpretation.—The meaning is plain. If there is to be peace in a family or neighborhood, the tale-bearer and the contentious man must be discouraged, if possible got rid of. At all events, let any one who would avoid being mixed up with strife keep clear both of him who kindles and of him who maintains its fires, but for whom it would not have a beginning or would soon die out.

Illustrations.—Doeg’s tale-bearing against Ahimelech embittered strife by causing innocent blood to be shed (1 Sam. 22:9, etc.); Ziba’s against Mephibosheth estranged David from him; the princes of Ammon wrought mischief between their lord and David (2 Sam. 10:3); the Judaizers by their insinuations, turned the Galatian converts against their spiritual father, St. Paul (Gal. 3:1; 4:16). But when Ishmael was “cast out” with the bondwoman, and when Lot and his company severed themselves, peace was restored to the tent and encampment of Abraham.

Application.—Cautions need to be repeated against sins which are common and fashionable. Such in all ages have been the sins of tale-bearing and contentiousness, to the great injury of peace. To the Jew it was forbidden to “go up and down as a tale-bearer” among his people (Lev. 19:16). “Whisperers” are denounced by St. Paul as among the worst of characters (Rom. 1:29), and the same Apostle enumerates “strifes, backbitings, whisperings,” as among the things which utterly misbecome Christians (2 Cor. 12:20). And yet, how common such faults among those who bear that sacred, honored name! Are there not too many who find it a pastime to spread stories to the disadvantage of others, and who let it be understood (if they do not openly avow it) that they dearly love a choice bit of scandal? What is the spiciest ingredient of the talk (we will not call it conversation) which goes on at half the tea-tables in the land,—what but reflections upon absent ones, their looks, their doings, their characters, supported by repetitions (by no means accurate) of their words or those of others about them? Who can wonder that society is honeycombed with divisions, and the Church an arena of strife? But I may do my part towards hindering such disunion and thus promoting peace, by steadily closing my ear and door against all gossipers, by bringing them to book, and exposing their meanness. I may exclude quarrelsome persons from my society and my household. I may set the example of “a meek and quiet spirit.”

October 28th

The words of a tale-bearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.”—26:22 (18:8).

Interpretation.—A “tale-bearer” is a “whisperer,” it may be of slander or of flattery, the latter, perhaps, arising out of slander. The word rendered “wounds” is of doubtful meaning. According to our version, it would signify the deep injury inflicted on another by whispered calumny. But it may be translated “dainties,” in which case there is an allusion to the greedy avidity with which some persons gulp down whether scandal or flattery, which find their way to the innermost recesses of man’s nature, and are there laid up as in a chamber or store-room. There is a hint in the original of a something poisonous connected with these dainties, as sweetmeats are sometimes made to look tempting with poisonous matter, to the ultimate hurt of those into whose bowels they penetrate.

Illustrations.—The scandal hissed into the ears of Potiphar, how must it have entered as a poisoned arrow into Joseph’s soul, far more than the iron fetters with which at the first he was bound (Ps. 105:18, Prayer-book). Saul, it must be feared, gave ear very readily to calumnies whispered against David, which he treasured up in his heart (1 Sam. 23:22; 24:9). Herod drank in the vile flattery accorded him, and it proved a deadly poison in his bowels (Acts 12:22, 23).

Application.—Whichever way we look at it, the picture here presented is a revolting one, and yet how true! The character to be avoided is a whisperer. For whether it be tales to the disadvantage of others which he brings, or sugared compliments to ourselves—the mere fact that they have to be whispered ought to be enough. Let me distrust those wily adventurers, with oily tongues and feigned confidences, who “creep into” houses, and insinuate themselves into society, hinting with bated breath at scandals destructive to character, or dexterously administering covert praise at the expense of others. Should I find myself inclined to relish either, let me tremble and draw back, for (however natural) this is a symptom of the old and corrupt nature not yet renewed. True Christianity is known by that charity which “rejoiceth not in iniquity” and “thinketh no evil,” which “is not puffed up,” and “seeketh not her own.” How then can I be a Christian and yet love to hear of others’ failings and my own commendation? Away with all purveyors of gossip from my house! With David, be it my resolve to “cut off him that privily slandereth his neighbor” from my service, from my society (Ps. 101:5)! Never, never be those speeches as “delicacies” to me which to others may be as deadly “wounds”!

October 29th

Burning lips and a wicked heart are like a potsherd covered with silver dross. He that hateth dissembleth with his lips, and layeth up deceit within him; when he speaketh fair, believe him not: for there are seven abominations in his heart.”—26:23–25.

Interpretation.—A counterfeit friend uttering warm protestations of love, but in whose heart reigns malice, is here compared to an object which glitters like silver, and yet it is only a worthless potsherd, and that which makes it glitter is not silver but only its refuse. “Hating, he disguiseth (his hate) with his lips, and layeth up deceit within him.” Of such a one the wise king counsels to let all his professions go for nothing. And why? For a whole host (seven, a complete number) of abominable thoughts and designs is in his heart, while his lips speak so plausibly. A vivid picture this of the treacherous man so common among Orientals, but alas! confined to no race or clime.

Illustrations.—Such were the lips of Joseph’s brethren, when “they rose up to comfort their father” under the bereavement they had brought upon him. Such was Absalom’s smooth hypocrisy (2 Sam. 13:22, etc., 14:33; 15:7). Such the peaceful profession of Joab dissembling his murderous intentions towards Abner (2 Sam. 3:27). Such the traitor lips and heart uniting with the other Apostles in protestations of faithfulness, yet “betraying the Son of man with a kiss.”

Application.—No bad man is to be trusted. For in the absence of good principles, what safeguard is there to inspire confidence? Now, until I know a man well I cannot be sure of his principles. I must be on my guard then, not unduly suspicious, but not credulous or confiding. Specially, if I fall in with one who flatters, or who makes unaccountable professions of friendship and overtures of service, let me distrust him till I have proved his worth. Sometimes the designing hypocrite entraps himself by overdoing his part. But there are dissemblers who have studied nature to the life. And I may have secret enemies of whose enmity, as I have given no real cause for it, I can have no suspicion. There may be plotters in the service of others, or with some sinister aims of their own in view. Painful as it ever must be to one of guileless disposition to distrust others, it is a plain duty of Christians to be “wise as serpents.” Good would it have been for us all had Eve been wiser than that “old serpent” who spake so fair. But the human heart is not only most deceitful but most deceivable. “The wisdom that is from above” is needed to pass safely through the world. Let me abhor flattery and every species of guile, and judge men by their acts rather than their words, and never count upon the friendship of one whose nature is poor.

October 30th

Whose hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness shall be showed before the whole congregation.”—26:26.

Interpretation.—The wise king’s pen continues to draw the character of a dissembler begun two verses above. “Although his hatred may disguise itself with deceit, yet his wickedness shall be displayed in the assembly. The prominent thought seems to be that some day this malicious hypocrite will so commit himself in public, perhaps in a court of justice, as that the mask shall be torn from his face and his true character revealed.

Illustrations.—David’s friendly overtures to Uriah were treacherous in the extreme, and that treachery, has it not been “proclaimed upon the housetop” from those days until now? Bigthan and Teresh, the king’s chamberlains, professing loyalty, formed a secret conspiracy against Ahasuerus, which was detected and is exposed at this day (Esth. 2:21–23). Herod, who thought craftily to have deceived the Wise Men, was himself deceived; and his wickedness is read in the ears of all Christian congregations throughout the world. Though Ananias and his wife might have cheated individuals, their imposture could not stand before the whole Church.

Application.—The preceding “counsel” was against being deceived; this is for the deceiver. The certainty of detection and exposure some day is here laid down. No doubt hypocrisy may prosper for a time. It often does, and hence, too many presume upon its success. Yet a profession of friendship concealing malice is not one easy to be kept up at all times and under all circumstances. The true sentiment is apt to betray itself in unguarded moments; it will peep out through the eyes, or be detected in the tones of the voice. An unfortunate omission on the part of the accomplished actor will sometimes mar his acting as effectually as a downright blunder. It has been well said that, “Love is the best armor, but the worst cloak, and will snare dissemblers as the disguise which Ahab put on and perished in.” Through some weak point or flaw, the arrow of conviction will generally penetrate in time. But if not, in eternity, at the Great Assize, before the “multitude which no man can number,” shall not the perfidious friend be brought to light, and his “portion appointed with the hypocrites”? Nay, before judgment is pronounced, will not such characters be heard calling upon “the mountains and rocks to fall upon them and hide them” (Rev. 6:16). But in vain; their sin will have found them out, and a blazing scroll shall declare it to the universe. And if upon earth even the laws of a conventional morality would exclude such black-hearted traitors from society, will they be endured in heaven?

October 31st

Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him.”—26:27 (28:10).

Interpretation.—The law of retribution is here laid down. To dig a pit for another is for one to plan secret and evil schemes against his neighbor. To fall into it is to be himself involved in the mischief he designed. To roll a stone upwards, to the heights, that it may be hurled down upon the head of an enemy, is to aid in doing another a bad turn at a constant risk to one’s self. The proverb states a general law widely verified in history, and sure to be verified universally in the future.

Illustrations.—Jacob, who supplanted his brother and deceived his father by means of a kid, was himself thus deceived at the hands of his own sons. Abimelech, who had slain his brethren upon a stone, was himself slain by a stone (Judg. 9:5, 53). David contrived Uriah’s death by the sword, while feigning friendship; and his own friends turned their swords against him. The blood shed on Calvary has been on the heads of the Jews, as a nation, ever since.

Application.—God’s will is not to prevent evil altogether in the world. To do this would be inconsistent with man’s free agency, and with His own sovereign purposes. But His laws in nature and in Providence tend to discourage and warn against it, and no law does this more strikingly than that of retribution. Both the experience and the observation of this law must convince the most skeptical that “verily there is a God that judgeth the earth.” For how else can I account for the fact that so often a bad counsel proves worst to the giver of it (as in the case of Ahithophel); that so often the contriver of destruction perishes (as in the case of Haman) by his own arts? Even the heathen recognized this truth, and the fabled Sisyphus is the stone-roller of our text—the type of a great multitude, whose mischief has returned upon their own heads, or threatened so to do (Ps. 7:16). God’s Word reveals that this is no chance affair, but of a piece with His moral government, and it may be I have felt it in myself in small things, if not in great. To find one’s self in the ditch one had dug for another must needs bring very nigh the truth that “Thou God seest me;” and with the confession, “As I have done so God hath requited me,” ought to come the solemnizing thought, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing happen unto thee” (Judg. 1:7; John 5:14). Though best, far best, not thus to tempt retributive judgment, the next best thing is to profit by it. In which case it will turn out to have been a chastening of the Lord, to the end that we might not be condemned with the world (1 Cor. 11:32).[1]

 

 

[1] Pearson, C. R. (1881). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 2, pp. 93–123). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)

November

November 1st (All Saints’ Day)

Many seek the ruler’s favor; but every man’s judgment cometh from the Lord.”—29:26 (19:6).

Interpretation.—This proverb is the complement of the preceding one (ver. 25). In that “the fear,” in this “the favor,” of man is warned against as a possible snare. The “face” of one in authority who has preferment at his disposal is sought by many with far more sedulity than God’s face. And there are those who will sacrifice their conscience and hazard their souls to obtain the favor of a man like themselves, while they ignore Him who has the hearts of all (even of kings) in His hand (21:1), who is the best Judge of men’s hearts and needs, and whose decision after all must govern all events.

Illustrations.—Solomon, whose face all the earth sought (1 Kings 10:24), must have had much experience of the adulation and greed of courtiers. He must have known also how, for a while at least, his own judgment as a king was guided and overruled in answer to his prayer (1 Kings 3:9, 12). The saints of old were men who, like Moses, Elijah, John Baptist, sought the favor of God above that of kings; Luke, Isaiah, and Paul were content to leave their judgment with the Lord, and to wait for His praise at His coming (Isa. 49:4; 1 Cor. 4:3–5).

Application.—“By faith” the saints whom we commemorate to-day became what they were. Now, faith is that divine faculty which raises a man above dependence upon secondary causes, to fix his thoughts and hopes upon the great First Cause. So that whereas he would naturally lean upon human favor and protection, and leave no stone unturned to obtain preferment, and be overwhelmed with disappointment at failing, he is able to possess his soul in patience by committing his way unto the Lord. He believes (what others profess to believe) that God is supreme, and that no ruler, however exalted, can overthrow His purposes; that on Him depends every man’s lot and condition in life. So that it is not as the ruler pleases, but as God pleases. The sun can no more shine in the heavens without God than a prince’s countenance beam favor upon a suitor unless God incline him. And He will so incline him if it be for the good, that is for the sanctification, of His servant that thus it should be. Or, should a judgment adverse to those highest interests be actually pronounced, how easy for Him who rolls away the clouds from the sun to overrule that wrong decision! Once convinced that all his matters may be safely left to God, the man of faith, having done his part, trusts all his future in His hands, to be as He wills and what He wills, and when He wills. “In His favor is life” has been the motto of all the saints.

November 2nd

A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin.”—26:28.

Interpretation.—We may attach to the first clause of this proverb two meanings, both equally good. It is true that he who lies, whether to or against his neighbor, thereby injuring him, must hate him in his heart; for the absence of love is hate (1 John 3:14, 15). Again, it is true that it belongs to human nature to hate one whom you have injured. As to “a flattering mouth,” it, as a rule, works ruin to him who is beguiled by it, either directly, by throwing him into the power of his enemy, or indirectly, by infusing a principle of vanity and self-conceit destructive to any character.

Illustrations.—Did not that “old prophet” practically hate his brother who “lied unto him,” perverting him to his ruin (1 Kings 13:18)? Those false prophets who encouraged Ahab by lying flatteries to go up against Ramoth-Gilead, were they not his worst enemies (1 Kings 22:6, 11, 12, 37)? The Jews hated Jesus without a cause, and the very utterance of their untrue reproaches confirmed their malignity. They hated Him the more because they had lied against Him, and their reproaches broke the heart of that afflicted One. Herod Agrippa, by listening to flattery, became a proof that never is a mortal so near destruction as when he forgets that he is mortal.

Application.—The world teems with liars; nor is this a matter for surprise, seeing that all are born with a natural propensity to lying, which grace only can correct (Ps. 58:3; Rom. 3:13). If one with Christ who is “the Truth,” I myself have “put away lying,” but I must not be the less on my guard against it in others. There are two sorts of liars busy among men, and they are equally detestable. There is the malignant or slanderous liar, who afflicts because he hates and hates because he has afflicted. There is the smooth-tongued, flattering liar, who with some object to gain befools those who swallow eagerly his honeyed words. Of the two this latter is the more dangerous, because he has an accomplice within one’s own bosom, an innate love of praise and admiration ready to second his attempts. Let me bethink myself, if I encounter such a one, how the stab has followed close upon the kiss (2 Sam. 20:9); how “busy mockers” with gnashing teeth may be lying in wait to follow up the flatterer’s work (Ps. 35:16). Such base creatures must be fled from or frowned away; never welcomed as a friend. I ought to be as much troubled by unjust praises as by slanders. I must pray to be content, yea, thankful to be without praise. I must reckon among the enemies God will help me to escape and to forgive those who have wronged and afflicted me with their tongues.

November 3rd

Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips.”—27:2.

Interpretation.—The two parts of this saying correspond with one another, the second being a repetition of the first in somewhat different words. “A stranger” may indeed be an advance upon “another man,” as it has been said, “A friend’s praise is lame, a stranger’s sound.” The more independent the source whence commendation comes, the more value it will possess, while (as we say) “Self-praise is no recommendation.”

Illustrations.—How elated was Jehu when he exclaimed, “Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord”! Can we wonder much that Scripture should praise him but little who extolled himself so much? But John Baptist, who spake humbly of his office, was declared by Jesus to be the greatest of prophets (Matt. 3:10; 11:11). And of the centurion who deemed himself unworthy of a visit from Jesus, the high praise was sounded not only by the Jews but by the Lord Himself (Matt. 8:8, 10). Samuel and St. Paul commended themselves, it is true, but blamelessly, since it was only in vindication of character, and when the cause of truth and the glory of God required it (1 Sam. 12:3; 2 Cor. 11:12, etc.). St. Luke, who never alludes to himself in his writings, is highly spoken of by St. Paul (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11).

Application.—“Self-commendation is the prerogative of Deity.” For God alone possesses inherent goodness, and a Revelation of Him (which He only can make) must in its truthfulness testify to His goodness. But man, in proportion as he knows himself, must be aware of too many flaws and imperfections in whatever proceeds from himself to deem it worthy of more than very qualified praise. Humility based upon self-knowledge will therefore restrain my tongue from vaunting. It will be my wisdom also to be reticent on the subject of my own character or doings. For to call attention to these is only to invite a sharper criticism than they might otherwise encounter. “Every one will be forward to run him down who cries himself up.” It irritates the self-love of another to hear one boast, and those who are the least modest are the most severe upon the neighbor who seems to overestimate his own worth. Scarce any show to advantage who are very solicitous to do so. At the same time, let mock-humility and affectation of disdain be equally avoided, devices, both of them, for securing a larger meed of praise. An honest simplicity, the outcome of genuine modesty, is best and wisest. Let my works praise me in the gate (31:31), but while my works shine, let myself be hid. I shall be no loser in the end, and the praise bestowed will be the more precious, as having the stamp of truth.

November 4th

A stone is heavy, and the sand weighty; but a fool’s wrath is heavier than them both.”—27:3.

Interpretation.—“Heaviness is in stone a weight in sand”—an indeterminate weight and heaviness (Ecclus. 22:15; Job 6:3). So the wrath of a fool (an unprincipled, godless man) is incalculable, and may be expected to descend upon his adversary with a crushing weight proportionate to his power to do mischief, and altogether disproportionate to the cause.

Illustrations.—Heavier than the piece of a millstone which slew Abimelech, and quite uncalled for, was Saul’s murderous rage against his son. Balaam in his insane fury lowered himself beneath the brute he rode. Nebuchadnezzar’s lack of control over his temper urged him on to deeds of reckless and preposterous violence. Nabal’s ill humor became death to him, and Ahab’s could only be pacified with blood.

Application.—Were it the habit to call things by their right names, as in Holy Scripture, and an ill-tempered man were known as “a fool,” more men would learn self-government. Even the irreligious would be ashamed to give way to temper, as is now too common. The notion that it is not only allowable, but rather grand, to make others stand in dread of an ebullition of anger, and suffer for the slightest provocation, is fatal to the cultivation of a habit of invariable good humor. One cannot learn too soon that nothing is really grand but what is calm. We image Deity to ourselves as imperturbable; the heathen thus portrayed their gods. Surely it must be true that in patience and meekness lies the secret of true power, while all violence is weakness. Were this believed, even without a higher motive, men would aim at a philosophical serenity, which would not only spare others but themselves also much prolonged misery. But for me, a Christian, there is a far higher motive in the Example I am bound to follow, and the precepts of the Man Christ Jesus. He who endured beyond any the contradiction of sinners did never strive nor cry, nor ever return evil. He has pronounced a blessing upon the “meek.” “Gentleness” is a fruit of His Spirit. To be like Him is to resemble God, who is both “strong and patient,” although “provoked every day” (Ps. 7:12). Let me beware of palliating outbursts of rage or fits of sullenness on the ground of temperament. Grace is a corrective for all temperaments, and equal to every need. It is wise never to speak in anger, nor, more than is necessary, to one in anger. Medicine and silence and prayer will be found effectual remedies of passionateness, and to remember one’s own infirmities of a tendency to undue harshness. Shall I not remember, when prone to undue anger, how God’s goodness has borne with me?

November 5th

Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?”—27:4 (6:34) (or vide p. 188).

Interpretation.—For “envy” we must read “jealousy.” Envy is the begrudging others some advantage they possess over ourselves. Jealousy is the passion excited at the thought of that which is dear to us being appropriated by another. In this place and elsewhere (6:34) the term has reference chiefly to conjugal rights. No passion rages fiercer in the human breast. So the wise king observes, contrasting it with wrath and fury. In the first there is cruelty, and the other bears down upon its object like a torrent. But jealousy (when fairly roused) is even more irresistible, “Who is able to stand before” it?

Illustrations.—Saul was the victim of jealousy. He suspected David of aiming at his kingdom, and Jonathan of abetting him; and both had to flee from his presence. The law of the trial of jealousy was ordained by God to come between the rage of a jealous husband and his suspected wife, that she might not fall a victim to it, perhaps innocently (Numb. 5). Ahasuerus, though moved to indignation against Haman for other causes, laid hold of one, real or apparent, which would be held to justify an immediate execution, on the ground of a husband’s outraged feelings (Esth. 7:8). God speaks of Himself as “jealous” in that He will not give His glory to another (Isa. 42:8), and compares His fury against His unfaithful Church to jealousy “against women that break wedlock” (Ezek. 16:35–39).

Application.—The passion in question is not in itself wrong, but needs to be controlled. Otherwise it may impel (as how often!) to deeds of violence or to suicide. A suspicious temper is not to be indulged; but where grounds of suspicion exist, calm investigation becomes a duty. The matter cleared up, all former suspicions should be dismissed. Jealousy allowed to rankle will often give rise to the very evils which inflame it, or will provoke jealousy in another. The jealousy which is excitable in conjugal relations grows out of the deep and true feeling that husband and wife are one. This sacred conviction ought never to be trifled with by either party at the peril of their mutual happiness. There is no such thing as harmless flirtation in the case of a married person. The insupportable rage generated by a suspicion of infidelity shows the nature of such a pastime as may lead up to it in its true colors. Let me beware of provoking in another, even by unguarded acts and words, a passion before which I could not stand, and which may issue in his downfall! And as a member of the Church which, “as a chaste virgin, Christ hath espoused to Himself,” let me never by unfaithfulness awaken His just wrath!

November 6th

Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”—27:5, 6.

Interpretation.—Honest, outspoken rebuke, whether from friend or foe, is “better,” more profitable to its recipient, than “love that is hidden,” that is, in fact, no love; yea, even equivalent to hatred, since, by not rebuking, it suffers sin upon a neighbor (Lev. 19:18). Wounds inflicted out of a loving sense of duty, though they cause pain, are a proof of sincere friendship. Whereas, the kisses of an enemy are “liberally bestowed” (margin), in order to hide perfidy.

Illustrations.—How much better in its results was Nathan’s open rebuke of David, wounding him to the quick though it did” (Ps. 51), than that monarch’s fond and selfish love for Adonijah, which proved his ruin (1 Kings 1:6)! St. Paul, in withstanding his great brother Apostle to the face, and in boldly rebuking vice among the Corinthian converts, gave a proof of faithful love that could not be gainsaid (Gal. 2:11; 2 Cor. 2:4). But Joab’s kiss concealed a dagger (2 Sam. 20:9). And Judas kissed eagerly or repeatedly (so Matt. 26:49 in the original) the august Friend Whom, in the same breath, he gave over to His deadly foes.

Application.—To speak the truth in love is an office of friendship, but oh, how difficult! Partly because we are so selfishly afraid of hurting ourselves. Partly because so few friends are willing to be hurt, but resent honest words, even when known to be spoken with a single eye to their good. Yet a heathen knew enough of the nature of true friendship to be able to say, “I don’t love my friend unless I offend him.” And another wrote, “He that would be safe must have a faithful friend or a bitter enemy.” These men realized that the essence of friendship consisted in mutual improvement. How much more ought I, a Christian, to be convinced that moral perfection is the highest aim and blessing of true friendship! But if this be so, the love on both sides must not be as “a comfortless and hidden well,” but “bright, awake, flowing forth and sparkling like a spring.” It will rejoice, not in iniquity, but in the truth; will commend the one and not less reprove the other. To allow by our silence of sin on the part of a friend is to incur a criminal responsibility. For we are guilty of evil we might have hindered. I must speak out at the risk of giving offence rather than let my friend do wrong blindly. A strong medicine is better than none. The surgeon’s care is to cure, not to please. Flattery is the love of an enemy. Thus God chastens while the world caresses; but in which lies love?

November 7th

The full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.”—27:7.

Interpretation.—For “loatheth” we must read “trampleth under foot.” The image presented is of a well-fed man, who sees a honeycomb in his path, and, not needing food, walks over it. Whereas, to the hungry man, even the bitter herbs that grow by the wayside are rendered palatable by the cravings of appetite. The proverb is capable of a spiritual as well as a literal meaning.

Illustrations.—Israel of old had angels’ food given them in abundance, and came to loathe it (Ps. 78:25; Numb. 11:4–20; 21:5). They ate of the quails, and were surfeited. But the prodigal son in his destitution “would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat.” Jesus, whose life had been known to the Nazarenes for some thirty years, had no honor amongst them. The Canaanitish woman turned His bitter words into sweet, and craved only the crumbs from His table—the portion of dogs. How contemptuous of the gospel in its fulness and sweetness were those Laodicean professors, who boasted that they had need of nothing (Rev. 3:17)! How thankful even for the bitter medicines of the gospel was holy Paul, who was pre-eminently “poor in spirit” (2 Cor. 12:7–10)!

Application.—The general principle taught by the foregoing words is that men set a value on any object in proportion as they feel their want of it. Thus, to some extent, the superior advantages of wealth and the evils of poverty are counterbalanced. The rich man’s abundance palls upon him; a satiated appetite yields no pleasure. He has to invent wants, that he may taste satisfaction. Whereas, the needs of poverty, often galling in themselves, make doubly enjoyable every occasion of their supply. The craving soul is not dainty, and the sated epicure or the bloated man of fashion may well envy the luxury of a homely meal, the charm of a simple ménage. Looking deeper, how often is it not found that the attractions of wealth and plenty have drawn off the soul from Jesus, its true riches; nay, that it has come to loathe His humbling doctrine, and to trample upon His life-giving cross! Whereas, it is still as true, as of old, that the poor are rather “blessed,” for they are less hindered from entering into the kingdom of God. If poor, then, I need not envy my richer neighbor. If rich, I dare not boast myself as above the poor. May not satiety be as great a curse as famine? Let not my heart be overcharged with surfeiting.

Above all, whether rich or poor in this world’s goods, oh, let me hunger and thirst after God’s righteousness! The hungry shall be filled with good things, while the rich are sent empty away.

November 8th

As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place.”—27:8.

Interpretation.—The habit of the bird to go in and out of its nest is not here the case in point. But rather such a habit as that of the swallow, leaving its nest altogether, periodically, for foreign climes; or of the ostrich, forsaking its own eggs (Job 39:13–15). Such birds incur a risk for themselves or their progeny, from which the stay-at-homes are exempt. So, a man who, without a call, from mere restlessness, discomfort, love of change, or other insufficient motive, is frequently on the wing (so to speak), to the neglect of home duties and of those entrusted to his charge, exposes himself and them to loss and injury. Nor is the evil less if we regard God’s house and altar as the “place” thus wantonly forsaken.

Illustrations.—To be “a fugitive and a vagabond” was a punishment greater than Cain could bear. Dinah, gadding about from home, fell into evil hands. Hagar, quitting her place without warrant from God, was reproved by Him and sent back to it (Gen. 16:6–9). Elijah and Jonah both, though from different motives, wandered at one time from their several posts, and displeased their Divine Master. St. Paul most strongly objects to young women learning to be idle by wandering about from house to house (1 Tim. 5:13).

Application.—Facilities in travelling have a tendency to promote roving habits for pleasure’s sake. It was not so in Solomon’s time, but human nature is the same at all times and among all nations. Fickleness and discontent lead some to wander from their homes; an adventurous disposition others. Men are apt to imagine that a change must needs be for the better. The wise king’s “counsel” is to think twice before I move from the place where I find myself. It is very easy to change for the worse. No condition in life is without its drawbacks, and many know not when they are well off. An Apostle advises, “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called” (1 Cor. 7:20). A heathen could say, “He is nowhere who is everywhere.” Doubtless, the rule admits of many exceptions. There are professional duties and legitimate enterprises which take men much from home. Health may demand change, or the finger of Providence point to another sphere of labor. What I am to guard against is a love of change for its own sake, a quitting my own “place” for another unless called to do so. He who goes out of the way may look to find a cross to be carried. The “counsel” may be applied to God’s sanctuary and altar. To wander from church to church, what good will come of that? Desultory humors never thrive. I am only in God’s “precincts” when I am where He would have me be.

November 9th

Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel. Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not; neither go into thy brother’s house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbor that is near than a brother far off.”—27:9, 10 (18:24; 19:7).

Interpretation.—Two proverbs concerning friendship. In the first is set forth the advantage of having a bosom friend. In the season of anxiety and depression his “hearty counsel” will rejoice the heart, even as aromas, both dry and liquid, have an exhilarating influence upon the senses. In the second, the old, tried, family friend, is commended as one to be cherished and advised with. Too much reliance should not be placed upon brotherly affection, for brothers by time and circumstances are often widely separated, and their attachment is at best usually based on natural grounds alone. Whereas friendship is a matter of choice, on moral grounds. A friend, therefore, who is also a “neighbor” as to disposition if not locality, is better than “a brother” who is “far off,” whether separated by space or spirit.

Illustrations.—How was not Moses refreshed by Jethro’s “counsel” relieving him of a heavy and needless burden! What must have been the rejoicing of heart of those two bosom friends “in the wood,” whose “counsel of the soul” “strengthened each other’s hand in God” (1 Sam. 18:1–3; 23:16)! Solomon did wisely in cultivating friendly relations with Hiram, his father’s friend. Through neglect of the family counsellors, his son lost the greater part of his kingdom. St. Andrew was a good brother to St. Peter, but St. John drew still closer to him as a friend.

Application.—True friendship is one of the sweetest and most cheering ingredients of life. But to have friends a man must show himself friendly. Faithfulness alone would crush, but sweetness and tenderness combined with good counsel alleviate and heal the wound. I shall do well to secure betimes friends upon whom I may fall back when the world, and even a brother, looks coldly upon me. It is wise, too, to have a friend in a neighbor, ready at hand for a time of sudden need. And wise to keep up a family friendship, one tried and proved by those who have gone before me and handed down as an heirloom. Both filial duty and personal interest demand this at my hands. Brothers may be very affectionate, and in some cases their love is of surpassing value. But it must not be too much counted upon, and “there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”

Above all, let me choose the God of my father for my God!

November 10th

He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him.”—27:14.

Interpretation.—The allusion is to a parasite and his ostentatious mode of courting his patron’s favor. Not content to extol him in his own circle, he must do it so openly that it may reach his ears—as “with a loud voice.” Moreover, he will be the first to wait upon him, to catch his eye and his ear, “rising up early in the morning;” will be indefatigable in his attendance, besieging his patron’s door. And all this with a view to some personal advantage—with no real love or respect in his heart—perhaps even with some sinister, lurking design at bottom. Of such a base, servile, fawning creature the wise king (who doubtless spoke from experience) says, “he shall be reckoned as if he cursed his friend.” For any good he does, for any thanks he gets, he might as well curse; yea, harm is the result of his blessing.

Illustrations.—Thus, Absalom “rose up early” to flatter and cajole the people whose hearts he stole, whose blood he afterwards shed in his unrighteous cause, proving a curse to them (2 Sam. 15:2–6). Thus Hushai, acting a double part, saluted Absalom repeatedly as king, intending to work his ruin (2 Sam. 16:16). Balaam, who had blessed Israel with a loud voice, so little meant what he said that he took pains afterwards to bring a curse upon them—with too much success.

Application.—To beware of sycophants and parasites—of those who praise and flatter to the face with an eye to their own interests—is the lesson here taught. Practically, it amounts to this, that I should abhor all adulation, and chase all those who offer it from my presence. I may be sure that persons of this character either are deceiving or intend to deceive me. Further, that their obsequious compliments are only calculated to do me harm, whether by increasing my self-esteem unwarrantably, or by turning me into ridicule and making me the butt of perilous criticism. It will naturally be supposed that I have paid or am going to pay my trumpeters, and I shall be estimated at their value. A wise man will prefer reviling to being bedaubed with insincere praise. Ignatius said that “they who praised him scourged him.” How little St. Paul cared about other men’s commendation he tells us (1 Cor. 4:3; 2 Cor. 12:6). Far better to have those about us who will advise than those who flatter. There is indeed a refinement of flattery which attracts rather than repels, and is by so much the more dangerous. There is an eulogizing of public men to their faces at public meetings, which the world condones. But

Let me aim as a Christian to have my “conversation in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity” (2 Cor. 1:12)!

November 11th

A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike. Whosoever hideth her hideth the wind, and the ointment of his right hand, which bewrayeth itself.”—27:15, 16 (19:13) (or vide p. 189).

Interpretation.—A contentious woman in a house is here compared to the continual dropping through chinks in the flat roof from one of those heavy and persistent rainfalls which occur in hot climates. The perpetual sound of her voice in loud, angry tones, or in fretful murmurings, is not less irritating than the dripping of water here, there, and everywhere, from which there is no escape. The master of the house must endure it, and more, the shame of its being known. For there are three things which cannot be concealed, because they betray themselves—the wind, an odoriferous oil or ointment, and a scold. Some critics prefer to omit the relative “which.” Others translate “and oil meets his right hand.” In either case, the figure implies an impossibility, great as that a strong odour should not be detected, or that so elusive a substance as oil should be grasped.

Illustrations.—It can hardly be doubted that Job’s wife added sorely to the patriarch’s trials by her tongue, from the one specimen given (Job. 2:9, 10), and the only other allusion to her in the Book goes to confirm this unpleasant impression (Job 19:17). Nor is it unlikely that the wives of Esau had some similar defect, which led even his mother to cry out, “I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth” (Gen. 27:46).

Application.—A similar picture to a foregoing one, only more highly colored, is here presented to us. For what purpose? To warn the woman against allowing her temper to rule her tongue—the man lest he link himself with a scold or turn his wife into one. It is only by degrees that the temper becomes predominant. However naturally impetuous or morbid, prayer and watchfulness would prevail to keep it under. Let the girl be taught and disciplined to this duty, that she become not a termagant. Let all disposition to bullying be sternly repressed in the boy, and let him learn betimes to honor the weaker sex. When age and circumstances allow of his marrying, let him be guided in his choice by higher considerations than mere wealth or beauty. For where fleshly lusts rule conscience and judgment in their choice, “such shall have trouble in the flesh” (1 Cor. 7:28). And what trouble they alone can imagine whose experience it has been to have for a partner in life a scold! The loss of peace, the instability of his house, the damage of his character, how will these wear his heart, once strong and firm as a stone (Job 14:19).

November 12th

Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.”—27:20 (28:19).

Interpretation.—“Hades and death are never satisfied.” The destroying power is here personified. And to it, in its insatiable character, are compared the eyes of man. But these organs represent the passions to which they minister, covetousness and greed and lust in every form. Of these it is here affirmed that the more they are indulged the more do they cry, with the grave and open sepulcher, “Give, give!”

Illustrations.—Ahab’s eyes could not be satisfied with “the cities that he built” and “the ivory house which he made,” but they must crave the vineyard of a subject, and were fixed upon Ramoth-Gilead at the time when they closed in death. Even King David could not be content without laying hands on a poor neighbor’s one pet lamb. Of the miser it is well said, “There is no end of all his labor, neither is his eye satisfied with riches” (Eccles. 4:8). Nay, did not the wise king, having exhausted all the springs of earthly gratification, write “vanity” upon them all?

Application.—It has been said with fearful irony that “nothing fills the eyes of man but, at last, the dust of the grave.” It is, however, still more true that of the evil passions looking out of the eyes there will be satisfaction—never. It would seem to be a part of the punishment of those who have had “eyes full of adultery,” of greed, of ambition, to be ever craving the things upon which they have set their hearts, preferring them to the things of God. Thus, Dives is tormented with that thirst of which Jesus said, “He that drinketh of this water shall thirst again.” The self-pleasers shall “gnash their teeth” over pleasures of which they have the vision only to be tantalized. How mad then to allow our desires now, and with them our eyes, to rove over forbidden prospects! Was it not by this sin entered the world; and has it not been ever since the cause of sin? “The eyes make the first advances in love.” So, where our affections are placed thither will our eyes turn. But shall I set my affections on perishable and transitory joys, nay, on things which are wisely forbidden because they disappoint and defile? Shall I enlarge my desires as hell and as death, with the certainty of a “woe” in the end (Hab. 2:6)? Nay, is it not my wisdom and happiness to have my eyes continually upon Him Who alone can fill the heart? For, surely, an immortal being can only quench his thirst from an infinite source.

“Lord, Thou hast made us for Thyself.” We are so great in our littleness that Thou only canst fill the heart. “Our heart can have no rest until it rest in Thee.” And Thou hast said (oh, words how sweet! how true!), “Come unto Me, and I will give thee rest.”

November 13th

As the fining pot for silver, and the furnace for gold; so is a man to his praise.”—27:21 (17:3).

Interpretation.—Two meanings may be given to these words. We may understand them either of the man trying the praise, or the praise the man—in either case as a crucible tests metal. Our version makes the man try the praise, and this accords more exactly with the original, if we translate (with some), “so let a man be to his praise;” or (with others), “so a wise man will act to the mouth of his praise.” In this view, the “counsel” will be not to accept praise of men as pure, sterling ore, but as mixed with much that is spurious and worthless to be detached from it by the action of God’s Word and of conscience. Or it may be taught that praise will be a touchstone of character: according as we are affected by it, we shall prove ourselves worthy of esteem or of censure.

Illustrations.—Both Joseph and Daniel shone the more when advanced to royal favor, and disclosed the innate nobleness of their dispositions. But Absalom, in the fining pot of popularity, proved dross; and Herod’s overweening pride betrayed itself in the same crucible,—he accepted impious flattery and perished. Our Blessed Lord avoided praise and rejected the acknowledgments of unclean spirits. St. Paul at Philippi imitated His example (Acts 16:17, 18), and not only put his conscience above man’s judgment, but God’s judgment above his conscience (1 Cor. 4:3, 4).

Application.—Both rules are good—to try praise, and to look upon praise as a trial. The dross of praise is that part of it which too often is the most valued, though worthless. I must reject as such all flattery, all extravagant compliments, however well meant, the too partial opinions of friends, and all commendation of qualities and actions God would not commend. I must be specially careful of accepting that commendation which is most to my taste. For how easy it is to learn to think of one’s self more highly than one ought to think (Rom. 12:3)! But if I would know myself, I shall be most sincere in testing that praise which pleases most, even as a chemist is most particular in an experiment concerning the issue of which he has a preconceived notion. My own conduct under an excess of popularity or a deserved tribute of public approbation will show me to others, if not to myself, in my true character. Am I in reality unworthy of so good an opinion on the part of others? I shall prove by a haughty supercilious deportment, a loving to have the pre-eminence, a forwardness to give my opinion, a readiness to take offence, that I am but “dross” at bottom. Whereas, to be humbled by praise, to bear my honors meekly, to be made more careful and conscientious to deserve my “good report,”—this will stamp me as “a vessel made into honor,” and I shall have “praise of God.”

November 14th

Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him.”—27:22.

Interpretation.—The figure is taken from the Eastern mode of beating off the husk from the corn by braying it in a mortar. It is employed to express a thing superlatively difficult, if not impossible, viz. the curing an adult fool of his folly. Chastening may benefit a child (22:15), but when one has got habituated to vice and ungodliness, hardly will the most severe and repeated strokes of the rod deliver him. Bad principles have become so intertwined with his whole nature, so completely a part of himself, that one might divide him into atoms (so to speak) without eradicating them. The proverb does not question the efficacy of divine grace, but of all discipline apart from that to set free one who has become thoroughly hardened in sin from its power.

Illustrations.—What repeated and terrible blows fell upon Pharaoh! yet did he not remain obdurate to the last? Ahaz stands forth a beacon to all ages. “This is that King Ahaz,” who, “in the time of his distress, did trespass yet more against the Lord” (2 Chron. 28:22). The men of Ashdod were so ingrained with idolatry as to persist in styling Dagon their god even after they had seen him fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark (1 Sam. 5:7).

Application.—We are here taught the nature of the human heart, and the extreme danger of growing up in habits of sin. “Harder than the nether millstone” is the heart of every one until turned into flesh by the Holy Spirit (Job 41:24; Ezek. 11:19). By Baptism it is brought under His gracious influences, but they may be so resisted as to be fruitless. A few years of deliberate persistence in evil, and “a child of God” may become “a fool,” scornful, vicious, unprincipled. Such a man will bring down upon his head heavy strokes of the rod, a rod, perhaps, of his own making. But will they of themselves bring him to a better mind? Will they root out the habits which have become his second nature? Nay, have we not ourselves seen instances of the impossibility (humanly speaking) of those accustomed to do evil doing good (Jer. 13:23)? Did not God Himself exclaim about His own people, “Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more” (Isa. 1:5)? So then affliction of itself will not convert the heart—it may even increase its hardness. “Tribulation” will not necessarily thresh out the evil from the good. Regret is not repentance, nor to be crushed to become humble. Affliction is a call to heed the voice of God. When that voice of love is heard, the hardest heart will melt.

Lord, save me from the greatest of all afflictions—an affliction lost!

November 15th

Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds. For riches are not for ever: and doth the crown endure to every generation?”—27:23, 24.

Interpretation.—The “counsel” is to diligence in one’s calling, and to prefer a simple, pastoral life above the turmoil of trade and of courts. Personal care is indicated by the expression “make thyself well acquainted with the face of thy sheep” (cf. John 10:3–14). The motive urged is that flocks and herds and land are really the best kind of property, always increasing of themselves, and yielding food and raiment. Whereas money, whether hoarded up or employed in commerce, is very apt to be lost; and even the crown does not always descend to the next generation.

Illustrations.—Jacob, painstaking and happy in his pastoral labors, was prospered of God and had abundance. Jehoshaphat, engaging with Ahaziah unlawfully in commerce, lost two fleets of merchant vessels (1 Kings 22:48; 2 Chron. 20:36, etc.). David, though the crown was entailed on his family, looked well to his flocks (1 Chron. 27:29–31). Uzziah, a king, “loved husbandry” (2 Chron. 26:10). Boaz is an example of a gentleman farmer whose eye was upon his laborers and their work (Ruth 2:4, 5; 3:7).

Application.—The Bible is a directory for all the diversified employments of life. It teaches how God may be glorified in every station, and how God’s providence extends to small things as well as great. I am advised not to retire from the world into solitude, as though that were more favorable to spirituality, but “to do my duty in that state of life unto which it has pleased God to call me,” as the best way of glorifying Him. I am to be “not slothful in business,” quite as much as “fervent in spirit.” If, however, a choice be given me, let me prefer the quieter pursuits of a country life to the scenes of more temptation and vicissitude in courts and cities. Though there too I may equally adorn my profession, and get my soul educated for glory, if thereto called. The great thing to remember is that all perishable things may be made the means and instruments of raising the soul heavenwards—that “our moments are the seed-time of our millenniums.” I may find God in commerce as well as in husbandry, yea (with reverence be it spoken), I may bring Him thereinto. And so with all duties, as a parish priest, a master of a family, a civil magistrate, a ruler in State or Church, to be prompt and attentive and diligent in my duties, looking after my business myself—this will please God. And if not less pains be bestowed upon the far higher interests of the soul, then not only shall I eat the labor of my hands, but it will be well with me, and happy shall I be.

November 16th

The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.”—28:1.

Interpretation.—By “the wicked” we understand those who are still in their sins, unrepentant, unabsolved. By “the righteous” those who, being justified through their union with “the Lord our Righteousness,” are walking uprightly before God. These have “boldness by the blood of Jesus to enter into the holiest” (Heb. 10:19). Whereas, those are a prey to guilty fears, and are tormented “before the time.” From Solomon’s point of view, however, the proverb would only express in a general way the timidity of conscious guilt, the boldness of conscious innocence.

Illustrations.—No sooner had our first parents sinned, than they dreaded the approach of their Maker. A guilty conscience made Joseph’s brethren “afraid where no fear was,” and troubled Herod Antipas with fearful apprehensions. “Felix,” convicted of sin out of the mouth of his prisoner, “trembled.” But Daniel, conscious of innocence, could brave the lions’ den, as his compatriots had braved the fiery furnace. St. Stephen could face a raging multitude with the calmness and benignity of an angel. St. Paul could meet death in the way of duty, not only without fear, but with holy joy and confidence.

Application.—Who has not confirmed the truth of the first of these sayings in his own experience? It is not necessary we should have committed monstrous crimes. The faults of childhood, the graver follies of youth, have they not seemed to pursue us, uttering “a dreadful sound” in our ears (Job 15:21)? It is easy to understand from this how such criminals as the adulterer, the robber, the murderer, would tremble at “the sound of a shaken leaf” (Lev. 26:36), and be dismayed at “the shadow” (Judg. 9:36). We know by their own confessions how many a bold man, conscious of guilt, becomes (as it were) all nerves. How in every face he meets he imagines a detective! How the upbraider in his own breast becomes (even now) a gnawing worm! The only remedy is to confess, and obtain forgiveness at the cost of any punishment. But shall I not anticipate and guard against such a state of cowardly and miserable apprehension, by confessing habitually every known sin, and so keeping “a conscience void of offence toward man and God”? If God be for me, who shall be against me? Now, He is on the side of all who have hid themselves in Jesus. If then I may have “boldness in the day of judgment” (John 4:7), much more now—boldness to confront false accusers, and to stand at my post unto death.

O God, give me that holy fear of Thee which shall drown all other fear, and make me self-diffident that I may he bold!

November 17th

For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof: but by a man of understanding and knowledge the state thereof shall be prolonged.”—28:2.

Interpretation.—Our version, though not unquestioned, may stand. According to that, the evil foreshadowed is the unsettlement of a dynasty, and its consequence—intestine strife. An evil this, the result not merely of rebellion against the lawful sovereign, but against God; a judgment inflicted by Him for “the transgression of a land.” Nevertheless, should “a man of understanding and knowledge” be raised up, the State may be saved, and may even prolong its days in stability.

Illustrations.—This truth was forcibly illustrated by the result of Jeroboam’s schism. So frequent became the changes of dynasty in the kingdom of Israel, that nineteen kings of seven different families occupied the throne during two hundred and fifty-three years. Not one of these kings reigned well. In the sister kingdom of Judah, on the other hand, out of nineteen kings, eight, more or less, “did that which was right,” and their people followed them. Hence the line of succession was preserved to the house of David, and its duration extended to three hundred and eighty-seven years. So markedly does obedience or “transgression” affect the stability of a State.

Application.—“The wise king” would have us see God in politics. The word itself might more properly imply patriotism than party tactics. And patriotism, the growth of home-loves and heart-affections, becomes in its wider grasp one of the noblest principles of our being. In its highest exercise it is built upon that corner-stone of all that is “lovely and of good report” in man’s moral character—personal religion. The truest patriots have been men of prayer and reverent trust in God. They have ever borne in mind that government is of God. It is so in its origin, for “there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God.” It is so in its exercise, for, however man may misuse his authority, all is overruled in time for the promotion of God’s glory and purposes. Thus, the schism between Israel and Judah arose out of misgovernment and party spirit, yet God said of it, “The thing is from Me” (1 Kings 12:24). It was, doubtless, for the chastisement of the nation among other purposes. So let me believe now that it is “God who sitteth above the waterfloods,” and that when a dynasty is removed or a nation split up into factions, “this is for the transgression of the land.” Might it not be averted by a leavening of the people with the principles of true religion? May it not be hastened by an influx of vice and atheism? As a true patriot then how much it behooves me to promote, by every means in my power, the work of Christ’s Church, and by my own “wisdom and knowledge” to help, as I may, to buttress up the State!

November 18th

A poor man that oppresseth the poor is like a sweeping rain which leaveth no food.”—28:3.

Interpretation.—Two words in the original are rendered “poor” in our version. They are employed here. But the first signifies “needy,” the other “weak.” Now, a “needy” man may be in a position of power, and, if so, will be tempted to grind those who cannot resist him, for his own benefit. There are swarms of petty lords and tyrants now as formerly in the East, who “eat up (the) people as they eat bread. To such as these the proverb may primarily apply, but also to cases of rapacity among private individuals. Such mercenary heartlessness is compared to rain become a curse instead of a blessing through the fury with which it sweeps away either the seed just sown or the harvest about to be gathered in.

Illustrations.—Zacchæus, before his conversion, was probably a fair sample of the tax collectors in Judæa—men of the lowest class acting on behalf of Roman knights who farmed the fiscal revenues from the Government. As such he would appear, by his own account, to have defrauded his weaker brethren (Luke 19:8), following the custom prevalent (Luke 3:12, 13). In the parable of the two debtors, the stronger of the two—a needy man, recently excused a debt—is represented as oppressing a much poorer man than himself on account of a small debt (Matt. 18:23, etc.).

Application.—How repulsive appears the character here drawn! Our sympathies go freely out to the subject of such tyranny, the brother whose little hoard of money, saved up (it may be) with no slight strain of self-denial and for some worthy purpose, is swept away into the ruthless grasp of one who, “clothed with a little brief authority,” has both the will and the power to appropriate it. Must not our indignation, sinless anger, be but a faint echo of that expressed in heaven at barbarity so selfish? We know it is. Therefore let us never retain an official capable of the like. Let a proprietor look after his underlings, for there is much concealed extortion going on in shops and upon estates, which it needs the master’s eye to detect. Relations between workmen and their employers, between tenants and their landlords, how often have these been embittered by middlemen! In family matters, too, what grasping of others’ dues, whether with or without a shadow of legal right, do we not too often see on the part of those who have the stronger arm, under the flimsy plea of need? But surely, the Christian is bound to act upon a higher rule. “What do ye more than others?” is the question (Matt. 5:47). And it is His pleasure Who, once poor, is now exalted, to “save the children of the needy, and break in pieces the oppressor” (Ps. 72:4).

November 19th

They that forsake the law praise the wicked: but such as keep the law contend with them.”—28:4.

Interpretation.—Transgressors of the law, by their very acts, justify transgression. More than this, in order to bolster themselves up, they profess to approve of and even admire others who are godless like themselves. But they who are true to God’s Word (29:18), deeply moved by such conduct, cannot remain silent, but “will strive with them” (these wicked ones); and strive they must if the realm or Church is to be saved. For in such a case silence or lukewarmness is fatal.

Illustrations.—In Jeremiah’s time, the prophets and priests, conspiring against God, played into one another’s hands (Jer. 5:30, 31). Jeremiah, however, contended with the disobedient Jews, foretelling their seventy years’ captivity. Nehemiah’s enterprise would have failed in important respects had he not contended with the transgressors of the law again and again, as e.g. with the rich Jews for their oppression of their poorer brethren, and with the rulers among the priests for their neglect of God’s house (Neh. 5:7–11; 13:11). What a contrast does St. Paul present to Tertullus—the one fawning upon the governor, whom he knew to be a corrupt and rapacious ruler; the other reasoning with him “of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come” (Acts 24:2, 25)!

Application.—I may judge of myself, as of others, by the objects which attract my praise. If I admire feats of courage or cleverness, as such, however wicked in themselves, I can have no real love for God’s law. I am a transgressor in heart, and probably cover up some wickedness of my own under some such specious disguise as covers theirs. By a dishonest mind the devil himself may come to be regarded as “an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14, 15). The next step to praising transgressors is to confederate with them against God. Let me be sure that neutrality as regards Christ’s service is treason (Matt. 12:30). To be a soldier of Christ is to be at war with sin of every sort and degree. To condone it is to commit it. It is fearful to sin, more fearful to delight in it, yet more to defend it. Christ’s open testimony against sin was His grand offence. But, if He be my Master, I must follow His steps, and bear the same testimony, braving the consequences. The world loveth its own, and by pandering to the world I may easily secure its favors. But I must in that case cease to be Christ’s, and forfeit His favor. Oh then let me never smile when I ought to frown, nor be silent when I ought to protest, nor “have fellowship with the works of darkness” by not reproving them. God give me to loathe sin while I love the sinner, and to dread the approbation of the wicked as a curse and a disgrace!

November 20th

Evil men understand not judgment: but they that seek the Lord understand all things.”—28:5.

Interpretation.—The contrast is between those who seek the Lord, and “evil men” who seek not the Lord. Such men are left to themselves, and “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God,” consequently, cannot understand the judgments of God. Whereas, “he that is spiritual judgeth all things” (1 Cor. 2:14, 15), yea, hath “an unction from the Holy One,” and knoweth all things—all things needful to be known for holiness and salvation (1 John 2:20). We retain “a right judgment in all things” in proportion as our heart seeks to know God (Jas. 1:23, 24). There is also a deep interdependence of morality and intellect. We lose ethical discernment in proportion as we do evil.

Illustrations.—The contrast is observable between David’s conscientious punctiliousness with regard to Saul (1 Sam. 24:5) in the days when his conscience was comparatively clear, and his recklessness in numbering the people later on when a great shadow had darkened his perceptions (2 Sam. 24:2, 3). The Jews in our Lord’s time understood not His parables through their love of sin and undue regard to reputation (Mark 4:11, 12; John 5:44). But prayerful Jacob, on reviewing God’s dealings with him, was fully satisfied of the wisdom and love that had ordered all events. Both Job and Saul of Tarsus, when they yielded up their self-righteousness, lost scales of prejudice which had hitherto obscured their vision of God.

Application.—One is tempted to excuse a great deal of unbelief in one’s own heart on the ground of want of understanding. “If I could only reconcile God’s ways with my own ideas of love and justice” (so we reason), “I should find it easier to accept His Word as my rule of life.” The answer to this is, “Accept His Word, and you will learn to understand His ways.” The real difficulty is not an intellectual but a moral one. The heart inclined to evil warps the judgment. Habits of sin obscure “the light that is in thee.” It is far easier to wrangle about “decrees” than to “keep the commandments.” Pride, too, is a very general cause of ignorance. It is by this men are hindered from seeking after God (Ps. 10:4). Thus, the source of light is despised, and what wonder we grope in darkness! God must explain Himself satisfactorily to our reasons, or we will not believe. But a God intelligible to all would cease to be God, just as a man who could fathom God would cease to be man. Many things dark to reason are simplified to humility. The “understanding of” evil men is “darkened because of the blindness of their heart” (Eph. 4:18). But good men understand all saving truth, because they “follow on to know the Lord” (Hos. 6:3). “The wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err on the highway of holiness” (Isa. 35:8).

November 21st

Better is the poor that walketh in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich.”—28:6 (16:8; 19:1).

Interpretation.—The “poor” man, as here contrasted with the “rich,” is one who is content to be poor, yea, prefers it to making money by chicanery or fraud. And how much “better” is he (says the wise king)—more respected, happier, more prosperous in the truest sense, than the man who, being “perverse in his double ways,” a double-going deceiver, “is rich” thereby!

Illustrations.—Was not Elijah’s condition, though one of extreme poverty, far preferable to that of Ahab, a wealthy and powerful monarch, whose ways were perverse before God? Who would not rather have his portion with a Lazarus, honest in his poverty, than with a Dives, neither rendering to God nor to his neighbor that which was due? St. Paul, who had nothing and yet possessed all things, was far more to be envied, surely, than the Roman governor at whose bar he stood, who, by rapacity under the plea of justice, amassed the property of his subjects!

Application.—A stumbling paradox is here removed. It has at times puzzled good men in all ages to understand how it should be allowed that “the ungodly prosper and have riches in possession,” while they “who wash their bands in innocency are plagued” with poverty and other trials (Ps. 73). “The wise king” solves the difficulty by asserting that (in spite of appearances) the man who remains upright in poverty is “better”—better off—than his neighbor who through double dealing amasses wealth. Do we not in some measure see this to be the case? Such a man is more esteemed and trusted, and surely it is character which constitutes the true dignity of man,—not what he has but what he is. He is more truly happy, for he carries within him the constituent and inalienable elements of happiness. As a member of society, he is more influential for good. His prospects beyond the grave are not sullied by the reflection that he has had his good things now, and that unjustly. For poverty is no disgrace, but dishonesty is. Poverty may be a great help towards the spiritual life (Mark 10:21, 23), but to grasp money must needs be a hindrance (1 Tim. 6:9). Even a heathen, when upbraided by a rich man, answered, “Thy riches do thee more hurt than my poverty does me.” Doubtless, there are temptations peculiar to poverty as to wealth, and one of these is to pursue gain by tortuous paths. But let me, a Christian, keep my character, my honor, my conscience, the assurance of God’s favor, the hope of heaven, at any cost. Around the poverty of the upright shines a glory far exceeding this world’s vain show. God give me to secure that which shall outlast the pomp a few handfuls of earth will cover!

November 22nd

He that by usury and unjust gain increaseth his substance, he shall gather it for him that will pity the poor.”—28:8 (13:22).

Interpretation.—The word “unjust” may be omitted. What is meant is gain derived from usury, whether in money or kind. It was contrary to the law for Jews to exact usury of their brethren, if not in all cases, yet certainly of such as were poor (Exod. 22:25; Deut. 23:19, 20). It is a law of God’s government that ill-gotten gains do not prosper, but pass at length into hands that know how to use them better. And this “counsel” about usury may apply to every description of oppressive, unrighteous, rigorous exaction whatsoever.

Illustrations.—The case of the Egyptians and Israelites is one in point, taking the word “usury” in a wide sense. By an unfortunate translation in our Bibles, the Egyptians are represented as lending, the Israelites as borrowing, “jewels of silver and gold, and raiment,” which they never returned, and (it would appear) never meant to return, or they could hardly have been said to have “spoiled the Egyptians.” And yet what they did was by God’s express command. The truth is that for “lent” we should read “gave,” for “borrow” “ask” (Exod. 3:22; 12:35, 36). Thus God requited His people for having been “made to serve with rigor in all manner of service in the fields.” The Egyptians had made “unjust gain” by their slavery, which they were now compelled to disgorge, that it might be consecrated to a holy purpose (Exod. 35:21–23).

Application.—That the lending of money on interest is prohibited in the New Testament cannot be proved. Our Lord alludes to it in a way which implies no blame, rather the reverse (Luke 19:23). The Hebrew word for usury means “biting.” Now, the lending of money so as “to bite” by an usurious rate of interest, would clearly be an infraction of neighborly duty. And he who put out his money to “bite” others would find it turn like a serpent in his hand and bite him (1 Tim. 6:10). Usurers have too often been extortioners, and as such, unpopular and unhappy men; often, too, unprosperous in the end. The principles of our religion would seem most clearly to forbid the lending of money at usurious rates of interest, taking advantage of a brother in distress. But the lending of money on equitable terms, so as to help a brother by the loan, does not appear to be prohibited. At the same time, to lend without interest, “hoping for nothing again” (Luke 6:34), yea, to bestow it as a gift, lending it thereby to God and so laying up treasure in heaven, this is most in accordance (where it can be done) with the spirit of the gospel. In all cases, “to pity the poor” is a secret of true prosperity, while “he shall have judgment without mercy who hath showed no mercy” (Jas. 2:13).

November 23rd

He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.—”28:9 (15:8).

Interpretation.—The principle of this saying has been laid down before (15:8). The essence of prayer is the spirit of obedience. Hence, there can be no real prayer concurrently with obstinate disobedience. Nay, such prayer becomes a pretense, an insult, “an abomination,” in His eyes to Whom it is offered. A pretense, for it implies a wish to know His will which is absent. An insult, for it assumes that He may be deceived as to a worshipper’s real state of heart. “An abomination,” for it is virtually an attempt to negotiate (as it were) a partnership in sin with God. “God will not hear his prayer who shuts his ears to the prayers of the poor,” or who lives in any wilful and presumptuous sin.

Illustrations.—How miserable was Saul, whose persistent disobedience caused God to depart from him at length, and to answer him no more (1 Sam. 28:15)! Israel, in the days of Isaiah, presented the “multitude of sacrifices” as a price for the neglect of practical obligations, and their “many prayers” were not heard (Isa. 1:11–15). Dives (in the parable) is an example of a man who neither heard God’s law nor his poorer brother’s cry when he might, and whose own cry for mercy remained unanswered.

Application.—The Word and prayer are necessary to keep up communion with God. By the first God speaks to us, and we speak to Him by the other. But as God never trifles with man, so neither will He be trifled with. Now, though to pray be apparently a good thing in itself, it loses its virtue if unreal. And unreal it must be unless the whole will be present in it, and I am what I give myself out to be before God. But a counterfeit of that which is good is a sham and a mockery, and to present such even to a human friend would be an offence. How much more, if I present it to the Searcher of all hearts, must it be “an abomination”! Even the natural conscience discerns this as in the case of the Pharisees of old, who, while mocking God with their “corbans,” could yet say, “Now we know that God heareth not sinners” (John 9:31). In fact, the obstinate sinner as good as says to God, “Depart from me,” while he pretends to draw near to Him. He resembles the Jews who bowed the knee before Jesus while rejecting Him and clamoring for His death. Shall I then give up prayer? Nay, let me give up sin, and so learn to pray aright. Nor may I substitute prayer for hearing the Word. But both combined, with obedience added thereto, shall bring me nigh to God and God to me.

November 24th

Whoso causeth the righteous to go astray in an evil way, he shall fall himself into his own pit: but the upright shall have good things in possession.”—28:10.

Interpretation.—The fate of the seducer is here set forth. He is one who, whether out of malice, to gain his own ends, or to depreciate religion, lures an innocent person into a way that is not good. He may, indeed, succeed for a time in his diabolical purpose. But, in the end, his triumph shall prove suicidal. He shall himself be the sufferer by his own wicked devices. Whereas, the (comparatively) blameless one whom he misled shall, if true to himself, be strengthened and ennobled by temptation, and not forfeit the inheritance of the Christian.

Illustrations.—The devil, himself a fallen angel, is the great seducer, and for him the bottomless pit is reserved (Rev. 20:3). But all who cause others to go astray do so far resemble him, and shall fall into their own pit. Thus Shechem, seducing Dinah, fell on death prematurely (Gen. 34:2, 26). Laban, who imposed upon Jacob for his own selfish ends, was himself the loser. Balaam perished at the hands of the people he had beguiled into sin. The old prophet who had enticed the younger one from the path of duty was compelled to republish the prophecy which condemned himself (1 Kings 13:32). But Sergius Paulus, escaping from the toils of the perverter, “believed,” and so inherited the promises (Acts 13:12).

Application.—A worse character than the seducer it is scarcely possible to imagine. For he does the very work of Satan, the opposite to that of Christ. The motives for doing it may admit of some degrees of badness, but they are all bad enough. Whether for his own pleasure or gain; whether out of a desire to get countenance for his own evil doings; whether out of hatred and scorn of religion; there is little to choose. But such a man is as short-sighted as he is wicked. Did he only look before him, at least through the glass of God’s Word, he would see himself fallen into a pit, if not into the pit into which he intends to decoy another. Were he to look far enough, he would see prepared for such as do the devil’s work “a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Rev. 21:8). Terrible is the fate intimated for those who put a stumbling-stone in a brother’s way, that he may fall (Luke 17:1, 2). What must it be for those who deliberately lead him into a pit that he fall irrecoverably? Oh may I never lead a soul astray! If myself at any time misled, God give me restoration, and to profit by my fall! But oh, to keep innocency, with peace and hope in possession, and still better things in store!

November 25th

The rich man is wise in his own conceit; but the poor that hath understanding searcheth him out.”—28:11.

Interpretation.—The tendency of riches is to make a man self-important, specially if he owes them to his own aptitude for business. For this kind of wisdom he is in danger of confounding with wisdom in general, and so thinks he may speak with authority on any subject. But the poor man whose critical faculty has been sharpened by his very poverty, and who has been led by circumstances to apply his mind to many subjects, sees through the other, discerns his weak points, and, if brought into close contact with him, “proves as by a touchstone” whether his boasted wisdom be true or counterfeit.

Illustrations.—The servants of Naaman were poor men in comparison with their master, and greatly his inferiors, doubtless, in many kinds of wisdom; yet did they show a truer wisdom, a stronger common sense, than he, when they overcame his prejudices against the one source of healing prescribed him. How did the blind man cured by our Lord overwhelm with confusion his superiors in wealth and learning by the simple argument drawn from his own experience (John 9:30–34)! That “poor wise man” of whom the Preacher speaks (Eccles. 9:15), “delivered the city by his wisdom” in the teeth, or else in the absence, of counsel from men far above himself in position. And was not Jesus the “poor wise Man” who searched through and through the great men of His day, “seeing their thoughts” and exposing their fallacies, while fain to teach them the true wisdom?

Application.—A lesson this against that overweening conceit which is apt to accompany the possession of wealth, specially in the case of a self-made man. Better to learn this beforehand than under the scathing tongue of a questioner who, though poor, is not awe-struck by a purse-proud oracle. Such a man, if thoroughly sensible and well informed, may soon make it apparent that a well-filled purse is not incompatible with an empty head. Drawing his richer neighbor off the one subject on which he is entitled to speak with authority, he may soon expose his lack of general knowledge, of judgment, and capacity. Not that the rich man and the poor do always thus contrast. But, in a general way, the pride begotten of wealth and great prosperity is a hindrance to true wisdom, which comes more readily and is sought more diligently by one whom poverty has humbled. Moreover, “the rich hath many friends,” whose adulation tends to puff him up with an undue estimate of himself. And if this be true as regards the wisdom of the world, much more is it of the heavenly wisdom. “How hardly shall a rich man enter into the kingdom of God! Blessed be ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven!”

November 26th

As a roaring lion, and a ranging bear; so is a wicked ruler over the poor people. The prince that wanteth understanding is also a great oppressor: but he that hateth covetousness shall prolong his days.”—28:15, 16.

Interpretation.—The cases represented are drawn from despotic governments. A ruler who fears not God neither regards man, placed over a people brought low and “weak” through circumstances, and eager to fill his coffers, is compared to a lion and a bear when hungry and seeking their prey. Another prince, through want of capacity, and so, it may be, falling into the hands of unprincipled favorites, may become also a great oppressor, shortening thereby his reign, if not his life. For “he that hateth covetousness” (Exod. 18:21), whose rule is just and equitable—God and men alike surround such a one with their favor as with a shield.

Illustrations.—Pharaoh, not content with exacting from the Israelites the tale of bricks, went on to deprive them of the chopped-up straw which was mixed with the clay to make the bricks firm and durable. At the same time, he required them to substitute for it stubble, fulfilling their daily task as though there had been straw. Rehoboam, falling into the hands of young men of selfish, overbearing, reckless character, was encouraged to attempt a policy of oppression, by which he divided his kingdom; nor was his reign long and prosperous like that of Hezekiah, a king who reigned in righteousness (Isa. 32:1).

Application.—How thankful I ought to be that I live under a constitutional government, where despotic tyranny is impossible! But let me beware of myself acting the despot and the tyrant on a small scale. It is quite possible to be “as a lion in (one’s) house, (and) frantic among (one’s) servants” (Ecclus. 4:30). It is only too easy to be bearish towards those who are in one’s power, venting every ill humor upon them. There are heads of families and of businesses, schoolmasters, officials of every grade, who by this means make others’ lives a burden to them. And the evil is all the worse where a sordid motive enters into it. But is this the spirit of the Christian, and not rather a barbarous spirit, and that of a savage beast? Ought not Christianity, destined in time to transform both the lion and the bear (Isa. 11:6, 7), much more to transform man by renewing him in the spirit of his mind? Can I be swayed by its power if habitually ill tempered, surly, or grasping? Are these dispositions proof of an intellect enlarged and cultivated, and not rather of a want of understanding? Am I by indulging them preparing myself a throne in the hearts of my fellow-creatures, and a calm and happy future?

November 27th

A man that doeth violence to the blood of any person shall flee to the pit; let no man stay him.”—28:17.

Interpretation.—The case contemplated is that of a willful murderer. “Oppressed with life-blood” (which he has shed), goaded by conscience and dread of consequences, he will flee. But his very flight shall be to the destruction he would shun. The “pit”—whether the grave or some covert and unsuspected mischief and ruin (Isa. 24:17)—will be the reward of his crime. It must be so since God has decreed it. Therefore, let no man attempt the impossible, to stay him in his course to his doom.

Illustrations.—The punishment of the first murderer, though not immediate death, was one with which no man could interfere. Joab, that ruthless man of blood, was torn from the very horns of the altar. Vengeance overtook both Ahab and Jezebel for their iniquitous abuse of power in murdering Naboth. Athaliah and Joash, both murderers, suffered violent deaths. Judas, unable to endure the anguish of having betrayed the innocent blood, precipitated himself into “his own place.”

Application.—“The wise king” refers to the divine law of capital punishment for murder, upon which he himself had acted. This law, given to Noah, the progenitor of a new race of mankind, was evidently meant to be a universal and perpetual law. Its foundation lies in the resemblance man bears to God in the possession of a moral sense and a free-will (Gen. 9:6). Hence, murder has in it the sin of sacrilege. Further, the life-blood, in view of Christ’s precious offering, is so sacred, that only blood can purge a land from blood shed willfully (Numb. 35:33). This law has never been repealed; only modified to meet the case of the man-slayer (Numb. 35:14). It remains a part of that moral code which binds all in every place and time. What miscalled philanthropy then must that be which would seek to abolish this law! Shall man pretend to be more merciful than God? The wisest of men did not, but warns us in this “counsel” to let justice take its course where the guilt of murder is brought home to any one. This is, in truth, humanity on a larger scale. It is individual compassion overcome by a regard to the general good. To interfere to protect one whom I believe to have blood upon his hands would be to become a participator of his guilt. I may not shew mercy on this wise. Grace may not come into the place of justice until justice has been thoroughly satisfied. On this principle Jesus could only save me by shedding His own innocent Blood. I may, however, seek to save the condemned one from the “second death.” And to visit such a one in prison is a privilege, and may be a duty.

November 28th

To have respect of persons is not good: for a piece of bread that man will transgress.”—28:21 (24:23).

Interpretation.—Partiality in judgment, whether in the case of rulers in Church or State, or in social transactions, is here reprehended. It is a violation of principle, and principle once overpowered seldom regains its ascendency. “In a judge” (says Bacon) “facility of disposition is even more pernicious than bribery, for it is not every one that offereth a bribe, but there is scarcely a case wherein something may not be found to bias the judge’s mind if he be a respecter of persons.” And one who yields to such laxity of principle may come in time, by an easy descent, to practice iniquity “for a piece of bread”—i.e. for the merest trifle (1 Sam. 2:36).

Illustrations.—Even the popular sense of right may be revolted by bribery, as was the case in Samuel’s time (1 Sam. 8:3–5). The false prophetesses of Ezekiel’s day were reproached by God with pronouncing innocent, thereby ensnaring and destroying them, souls which He had condemned,—and for what? “For handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread,”—in other words, for mean rewards (Ezek. 13:18, 19). Similarly, St. Peter foretells of the ministers of a corrupt Church that “through covetousness, with feigned words, shall they make merchandise of (souls).” They shall adapt their teaching purposely to suit their hearers’ tastes, for the sake of gain (2 Pet. 2:3).

Application.—God Himself is no respecter of persons. Were He so, He would be unjust. And how should He then judge the earth? Man, made in His image, has a sense of justice which to violate “is not good.” It is not good for others with whom he has to do, for by partial judgments injury is inflicted on all classes, and disaffection towards lawful authority bred. It is not good socially, for thereby evil is encouraged, well-doing repressed. It is not good for himself, for thus guilt is brought on the soul, and a habit of lax principle fostered. A judge who allows any considerations but pure right to affect his judgment will in time stoop to the most unworthy considerations. He began with respecting the person; he will end with accepting the bribe. The partial will become paltry, and at length sordid. Justice with eyes unbandaged loses her character. And this principle applies equally to all who have ought to administer. Let me, whether in almsgiving, or domestic government, or official duties, or patronage—in the discharge of whatever trust, be swayed by an incorruptible principle. The least deviation f